Competences, skills, learning sources and the support needs of individuals who purchase small established enterprises
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Although a significant number of small firms are purchased as going-concerns these businesses are rarely studied as a separate sub-group. The research conducted here therefore focuses on small businesses that were purchased as established enterprises, namely the skills and competences that are required to operate them successfully. The study also looks to identify the learning and knowledge sources that are the most beneficial to the Owner-Managers of these firms and determine how their needs might best be supported. The study concerns small firms that are located in the South West of England (Torbay and South Hams) and comprises quantitative and qualitative research that is presented in three Phases. Phase I which comprises a postal questionnaire administered to a sample of 350 small business purchasers is used to (1) test a number of propositions and (2) identify issues that require further examination. Extensive use is therefore made of Chi-square, one-way analysis of variance and multivariate analysis of variance. The results generated by the questionnaire revealed a number of areas that required further examination, namely the reasons for training abstention; the role played by informal training; key sources of learning; the type of support that is most needed and whether skill prioritisation is linked to small firm ownership within this context. These issues form the basis of Phase 2 of the research, which comprises face-to face interviews held with a number of accountants (n=10), who could provide information concerning small firms from a professional and therefore different perspective However in order to fulfil the research objectives further research was required. Phase 3 of the research therefore comprises face-to-face interviews held with a cross-section of the OMs surveyed. Although the results generated by these two phases of the research show that there are no skills that are particular to this sub-sector, skill prioritisation is significantly influenced by ownership in this context. Whilst the most popular forms of skill development are informal training and experiential learning, working alongside the present owner(s) prior to taking over the business is the richest source of learning. Given that the research (1) shows that those who purchase established enterprises prioritise skills in a particular way (2) identifies a particular form of learning that takes place when time is spent working alongside the present owner(s) (3) establishes a need for specialist support and (4) proposes a framework, which can be used to formulate learning plans, the study therefore makes a significant contribution to the existing body of knowledge on small firms.
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