guiding principles highlighted below are aimed at enhancing the role played
by clusters in developing training and employment support of SMEs:
Three main constituent components of organisational learning need
to be targeted in relation to training and support policies: information-gathering;
knowledge acquisition and competence consolidation and development. At
present, SMEs are relatively active in knowledge acquisition activities,
but not in lower-level market intelligence gathering or higher level competence
development. They need to be made aware of the need to balance these three
different components in their human resource development planning and management.
The entrepreneur is a pivotal figure in decision-making, but the evidence
suggests that a large proportion of SMEs are in 'crisis management'
rather than pro-active learning situations. Since entrepreneurial decision-making
styles are closely associated with such crisis-management, there is a need
to encourage SMEs to adopt a more participative style of collective learning.
Microenterprises and new start-ups are particularly prone to ‘crisis-management’,
and the lack of a coherent organisational learning strategy. Since this
situation is almost certainly associated with lack of resources, it would
suggest the need for support services that can provide pooled resources
There would appear to be significant gaps in the skills capabilities
of European SMEs. Small firms tend to concentrate their efforts in developing
and enhancing production-based skills, but there is a clear lack
of competencies in marketing and in cross-job skills. Training and support
policies also need to address the lack of expertise, and practices, in
skills auditing amongst SMEs, their support organisations and regional
development agencies. There is a need for a European Skills Accreditation
System, as outlined in the White Paper on Education and Training. However,
such a system needs to be attuned to the particular features and needs
of SMEs. It would therefore need to capitalise on the extensive use of
informal learning networks used by SMEs (Sarcina
1998, pp. 14-18).