We're all a bit fatigued after a full year of the Pandemic.There's been so much bad news everywhere we turn. The team here at Drogheda Chamber have supported and celebrated the resilience, creativity and courage of our entrepreneurs over the last year. And now it's time to celebrate those that have been nimble in adapting to the changing situation. Those that havepivoted. That have used the lockdowns as opportunities to future fit and develop their businesses further.
Over the last few months we have been interviewing some of these businesses and sharing some of the positivity and good news that we see.
This week we are talking with Stephen McDonnell from M1 Skillnet.
Tell us about M1 Skillnet - pre pandemic
The M1Skillnet was created in 2018 and is designed to deliver training and development services to member businesses and employees in the region. The Skillnet is the training and development wing of the chamber, delivering for chamber members.
As a regional Skillnet, we use grant funding from the National Training fund (through Skillnet Ireland) to design and deliver high quality, high impact training that is requested by and of value to our 300 member companies.
What was the initial impact on your business & how did you react?
The impact across all Irish business was significant. On the Skillnet side, all training had to move from in-person and on-site training, to online and virtual training. Whilst this may seem normal now, in Spring 2020 - this was a challenge for trainees, trainers and indeed to us, as the full mechanism and management of our events had to change more or less overnight.
Our network manager did this really well and allowed M1Skillnet to continue to deliver high quality service to our members.
Through Skillnet Ireland, we also secured additional funding and worked to deliver a suite of programs to support local businesses and keep them operational. Also to help business to keep their teams engaged whilst working remotely. The Agility of the M1Skillnet model was a real winner for our member companies as it allowed us to work with our training panel to develop and deliver a suite of programs that had not existed pre covid. We were able to deliver real impact in doing so. Some examples of the programmes we ran in those initial months of the Pandemic are the 'Retail Battle Plan' programme and the SME recovery and Growth series which had over 250 business leaders participating.
What changes did you make in order to cope or pivot / and to adapt to the situation?
The greatest change has been moving the full activity of our model- to online and increasing our connection with our member companies. This has allowed us to react to the fast moving business needs, and deliver new and innovative programs enabling business in the region to grow and develop despite this being a period of challenge.
Traditional training days were exchanged for a new style of digital classroom” and many one-day programs were broken into smaller sessions.We have also done a lot of work to make the customer journey easier - both in identifying and purchasing training - for both employees and management. Newsletters are focused on sharing ideas and information as well as letting everyone knowwhat programs are available. And we also recently launched an APP (https://m1skillnet.glideapp.io) - to give ease of access to what’s available in the next month.
I think the key for M1Skillnet has been focussing on making it easier for member companies to interact with us and to benefit from the grantaided training that we develop and deliver.
These all resulted in the ability to increase the learning and development interventions in the region increasing to over 1000 days training delivered across all sectors in the region - a fantastic achievement that we're proud of.
What supports, grants, aids helped the most?
The Skillnet model and network has been a tremendous support.There are over 70 other Skillets in Ireland, and there was a concerted effort to make it work and work for everyone. With funding targeted programmes to aid pivots and work for everyone and the new reality we all found ourselves in. We wanted to ensure we could apply maximum support to support businesses andemployees that had their workplace changed overnight.
In addition, there was additional government funding via Skillnet Ireland to further assist businesses and employees to rebound and rebuild the next phase in their pandemic reaction and business development.
How are you feeling about business as we begin to plan to emerge from the lockdowns, and as vaccinations roll out?
I’m optimistic. Realistic to the challenges, but yes, optimistic.
We are talking to lots of business and the mood is buoyant, all be it challenging. There are real challenges for business today beyond the base management metrics we use to measure success.
Staff retention, in fact finding staff and another level finding good staff is a real challenge for many businesses today. You can see this with the job adverts across the area and through social.
Our last year and a half have been reactionary for most, changing that lens will take some time, and is important for business leaders to recognise, take leadership positions and grapple with that fast as there are other BIG topics on the horizon, and they have further disruptive capacity:
Immediately we have hybrid working, shorter work weeks, shift in working practices and the potential impact if we don’t adjust how things are done to allow for this.
We have seen the shift, no the move to online, and how that here to stay. This was the start and we will have another large shift as AI and connected services and systems take the repetition and free up capacity for us to do more complex work
Climate and emission management will be another big topic in the near future that will have an impact on business and our local environment,another need to adapt businesses.
Look around, we’ve all come through the biggest crisis in our business lives, learning from this allows us to make these next steps with confidence. Confidence that we can if we do so in a considered way.
M1Skillnet are developing a suite of new programs to accelerate this consideration, development opportunity for senior leaders and management to prepare for this new environment.
New skills development for staff to add value to their employment and contribute measurably to their company’s performance.
New programs to widen thinking and consider new roles, work practices and technologies to strengthen the regions position as a business hub in the northeast.
We are planning a “Making Hybrid Work Well” conference for businesses in November to look at this area and will have some great speakers that will share their deep knowledge. More on that soon....
Finally … What's your top piece of advice for other businesses?
Your teams (you included) are what have got you through the last 18 months. It is the same people that will lead you out, and we all have to be deliberate with the direction that takes. The future is changing, and that change is accelerating, so make sure you’re investing in your people and challenging their potential regularly.
Yea, some of those that you invest in, will move on. That is true….. but also remember that those you don’t invest in will stay longer ….
Remember your people are one of your businesses greatest assets (one that never makes it onto the balance sheet). As Doug Cognant said – “To win in the market place you must first win in the workplace”
We are here to help you win in both!
If you'd like to be featured in this series - We'd love to hear from you @Drogheda & DistrictChamber.