18 Jun

LLEP Directors Blog: Digital Skills – Rani Mahal

Rani Mahal Wide Angle

With the development of the Leicester and Leicestershire Digital Skills Partnership, we are leading the way on improving digital skills and literacy among businesses in Leicester and Leicestershire. We’re working with a wide range of local partners, building on existing good practice and local expertise. This month, we caught up with Rani Mahal, a member of the LLEP Board of Directors and owner of local SME RM Kingsley, to talk all things digital…

“Digital skills play a big part at RM Kingsley. When lockdown hit, digital technology proved a lifeline to keep our business moving. Whether through email communication or ordering supplies digitally, we quickly learned new skills that allowed us to continue.

“Some small business owners still prefer to work in ‘old ways;’ banking in person, sending letters through the post etcetera. There is almost a denial of the way business is going, in favour of a style that is becoming less and less prevalent.

“The onset of lockdown forced these old-school entrepreneurs to put a lot of things into place to ensure business could continue. Many were pushed into taking actions that they might not otherwise have done, such as online banking or moving parts of the business online. The SME landscape has computerised even more than it already was, and in some ways the pandemic has helped SMEs by forcing them to modernise and go digital.

“My husband is the head of our business. He doesn’t have time to attend courses to become more digital-savvy, so I have taken on a lot of these tasks myself and pushed him where possible to learn new skills. We would have preferred to have upskilled years ago: it’s better to get ahead of the curve and learn things before they become essential.

“Brexit has had an effect on business too. Those that haven’t prepared have faced delays, and most of the required actions have to be completed online. Those that don’t have the right skills could face being left behind, so it’s essential that SME owners that have dealings with the EU ensure that they and their staff are competent and confident in navigating this digital landscape.

“In terms of recommendations I would make, SMEs should focus on ensuring that all members of their business are familiar with basic digital admin – email, Microsoft programs and online banking and commerce should be the priorities. It’s worth putting the time in to ensure that you and your team have the required skills. It could be one of the best investments you ever make!

“Research the help that’s out there – there are grants and free help, like SERCO SSW, available to help upskill staff. It can be difficult for people that aren’t as tech-savvy, but rest assured that you can get assistance with basic things like setting up a bank account online for business purposes.

“For training providers, my advice would be to recognise that there are some business owners that need to start from the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of digital skills. For example, if you’re looking to help upskill people, it could be a good idea to contact them via traditional methods in order to get them to transition to new ones. It’s also vital to relate everything back to the specific type of business that is getting help, so that they can understand how upskilling will benefit them specifically.

“The LLEP Digital Skills Partnership is a hugely important piece of work, that will have lasting benefits for our local business community. Business is not always about competition, sometimes it’s about not leaving people behind. This is what’s needed in digital upskilling – a collaborative approach as for some businesses it’s very easy to do this sort of thing and for others it’s not.

“An approach to digital skills that encompasses the wider business landscape is key. How does an SME that might not be confident online reach larger markets, buyers or opportunities? All of this is possible in the digital age, and a business that might have started on a market stall could go global in the blink of an eye.”