BUSINESS success stories during a nationwide pandemic are few and far between, but Leicester SME IMPROVE Online is bucking the trend with a reported 166% increase in new customers during the lockdown period.
The company launched its online training platform, created specifically to serve the needs of SMEs that want a practical and cost-effective way to upskill employees, in January 2020. With demand for e-learning skyrocketing during lockdown, as employers and their teams look to use their time in an effective manner, IMPROVE Online has seen its average usage figures sharply increase to 41%, which is significantly higher than the learning management system national average of 14%.
This increased uptake is an encouraging sign that the nation’s SMEs are working to get their teams prepared for the changed post-COVID business landscape.
In addition to IMPROVE Online benefitting from the growing popularity of online learning, the business also decided to diversify at a crucial time. In April, it launched Partner Hub; an online portal that gives HR service providers a way of white labelling IMPROVE courses to offer learning and development to their own SME clients or to instantly bolster their own provision.
One of its most recent customers is the East Midlands Chamber. Lucy Robinson, Director of Resources at the East Midlands Chamber, said: “The Chamber is keen to continue to support development for its employees and the IMPROVE platform has enabled us to move some training online maintaining development and delivering legislative updates and changes. We recognise the need to develop skills and support our people especially in challenging climates, this helps to ensure we can continue to deliver quality services to our members.”
Steve Walker, CEO of IMPROVE Online, said: “We’re certainly seeing a period of growth for online training as you might expect from the challenging conditions of lockdown – IMPROVE was launched in early 2020 and we already have an established base of SME clients and 60 Partner Hub HR consultancy partners in just five weeks. This is particularly pleasing when you consider what this means for UK SMEs who are the ones exclusively using our training platform.
“This may be an unprecedented time for both businesses and individuals, but it also presents new opportunities, particularly for SMEs aiming for rapid growth. Not only has there been an employee base, furloughed or still active, with time to focus on development, but it’s been a rare chance for SMEs to plan what will be their “new normal” way of working.
“Online learning has very rapidly proved its value during the Coronavirus pandemic and its fortunate that we were prepared and in a great position to meet that demand. We’re confident that the trend for e-learning will continue – it takes 40% to 60%* less time to complete a course online than in a classroom which makes it far more productive for SMEs. As well as being efficient and engaging, it supports flexible working styles by giving employees the ability to select when they learn, at a pace that suits them. It also aids staff retention which is again invaluable for SMEs.”
Lockdown has been a time of rapid business development for IMPROVE Online. An in-house team was created to regularly develop new content and, as there are no other existing SME-only courses on the market, IMPROVE has had to develop its own language and strategy to meet the specific set of requirements of its customers.
Speed of development and adaption has also been central to the success of IMPROVE Online. Since its January inception, IMPROVE has developed more than 60 high quality courses for SMEs around the core areas they need to run a business and has a further 30 in production, including new areas such as working from home and wellbeing.
Steve continued: “Resilience is currently the name of the game; encouraging SMEs to invest in training now is also about securing their future, and by extension, the client base of the HR consultancy we also work with. The idea of “normal” is going to keep changing so SMEs need to train themselves to ensure they are as agile as possible. This period of working outside the traditional office-based methods will irreplaceably change the way people want to work; also aligning with how the next generation are likely to prefer working.
“This looking ahead and planning has also revealed a need for SMEs to tackle the wider challenge of dedicating time and budget to developing managers. This is such a common issue; companies promote managers but don’t implement the support meaning it’s often sink or swim for the employee. This is also a great opportunity for HR professionals to step in and advise that now is the ideal time to recognise and act on developing these team members, using online technology as a cost-effective option for building pathways and creating a succession structure.
“My belief is ultimately that a business – whether I’m talking about the outsourced HR advisor here or the SME it works with – can only be resilient, and come out of the current situation stronger, if its people are resilient. Training is therefore critical; particularly for the development of managers and their interpersonal skills which will need fine tuning to manage remote working even more effectively in the future. SME clients should be encouraged to start now so that there is time to test, evaluate and implement a full training strategy.”
Stacey Garland, business manager at Leicester-based S&L Personnel which uses the IMPROVE Online platform, said: “Our plan for 2020 is to focus on employee communication and engagement with a specific aim to upskill our teams by allowing them more opportunities for professional and personal development. Whilst Covid-19 has brought its challenges, the timing of this strategy roll out was actually perfect as it allowed us to remotely reach out to all of our employees working from home, and for those furloughed, giving them an opportunity to learn new skills via the training platform and ultimately creating another method of keeping in touch with us.
“We have received so much positive feedback from our colleagues who love the freedom of logging into the platform and completing the virtual training from any location. The system will benefit us all long-term as we continue to grow and will enable us to nurture our employees and attract new talent.”
Outsourced HR consultancies that sign up to the IMPROVE Partner Hub are given access to an exclusive online platform, which allows them to manage and set up training programmes for clients or have the option of providing them with a referral link if their customer prefers to do it themselves. Click here to find out more and to have a free demo.
IMPROVE already offers more than 60 professional development training courses, ranging from compliance and digital skills to management and leadership, that is available 24/7 on any device. Its platform allows businesses to upload almost anything to its bespoke online training library alongside their courses. For more information on Improve please visit www.improve.online