Model for Digital Skills Training for SMEs


  • Anna Ollanketo Project manager
  • Mervi
  • Heli
  • Anna-Maija Kiukas



Concerning the level of digitalisation, SMEs are not as well positioned as large companies. Lack of affordable training and ability to obtain needed competences form significant obstacles for the digitalisation of SMEs. The present study discusses these challenges and proposes an experimental model developed in a project implemented in cooperation with a university of applied sciences and regional business development organisations. The project provides the tools necessary for SMEs to develop their digital skills in the South Savo region, Finland. Our research question is: How can SMEs be best supported to develop and grow their digital skills and business models? Earlier research shows that employees working in SMEs need a set of competences enabling them to work and prosper in the ever-changing digital environment. For SMEs, the question is, which set of employee competences is the most relevant for the company's commercial success, because digital competences play a vital role in most SMEs’ future success. The training model presented in the paper is based, firstly, on defining the relevant areas of digital competences and the most significant skills gaps for each SME and, secondly, on tailoring a company-specific syllabus for closing these gaps. There are over 180 SMEs participating in the project. The practical work with each SME starts with digital competence mapping in a meeting between a business advisor and a representative of the SME. Based on the competence mapping, the SME then receives a company-specific action plan, and a syllabus. The project provides participating SMEs with clear learning paths at both basic and advanced levels, longer training paths and coaching. By doing so, the model ensures that participating SMEs only concentrate on relevant issues and get appropriate particulars support for their businesses. The contribution of the study is the development of an efficient training model and testing it with 180 SMEs. Based on our results, the most important digital competences for each SME in developing and growing its business must be defined based on each SME’s specific business needs, grounded in its business model and context, and skills gaps related to these competences.

Author Biographies


Mervi Rajahonka, D.Sc. (Econ.), M.Sc. (Tech.), LL.M. Researcher in several international, national and regional projects at South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences Xamk. Her research interests extend to numerous themes, for example, small businesses, digitalization and service innovations. Her research has been published in several publications and refereed journals. See Google Scholar at


Heli Saali has a bachelor’s degree in culture & arts. She is currently studying for a master's degree in business administration. She works as RDI specialist at the department of Digital Economy, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences. Heli is currently contributing to a project that aims to help SMEs improve their digital skills.

Anna-Maija Kiukas

Anna-Maija Kiukas (MSc in International Business and Sales Management). Project manager at the department of Digital Economy, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences. Fields of expertise are SME development, entrepreneurship and internationalization. She has published a number of articles in national and international publications.