SMEs predict bumper three-year rise in projects but skills gap could derail growth

Almost nine out of 10 project professionals working for SMEs in the South East are expecting a rise in the number of appointed projects over the next three years, according to a survey by the Association for Project Management (APM).

APM polled over 500 project professionals working for SMEs. 87% in the South East said they are anticipating an increase in the total number of projects that they are working on between 2024 and 2027. In addition, 78% also anticipate an increase in project budget size in the same period.

Currently, almost a third (30%) of SME project professionals in the region polled said the average size project they are working on is between £100 – £299.99k, 44% are working on projects of over £300k, and 26% are working on projects over £1million.

The South East is predicting the second largest growth (83%) out of all 13 regions polled, behind Yorkshire and the Humber (90%) and followed by the South West (81%).

Professor Adam Boddison OBE, chief executive of APM, said: “It’s very encouraging to see project professionals working across the UK’s SME sector predict such a bumper rise in project growth over the coming years, despite the current challenging economic landscape.

“Project professionals play an important role in driving economic growth, and our latest survey shows that the project management profession has a great deal of optimism within the built environment for the next few years. However, there are challenges that stand in the way of this expected growth becoming a reality.

“Smaller companies are less likely to employ dedicated project managers so in many SMEs, projects will often be managed by people for whom project management is not their main skill.

“It is therefore important that they are provided with project management approaches that are quick to learn and simple to use but provide effective management of projects.

“To ensure the growth and development of the project pipeline, employers must first ensure that they are investing in their workforce. The successful future of projects rests heavily on those delivering them.”

The survey further revealed that 85% of the same SME respondents from the South East identified skills shortages in project management at their employer, with soft skills and technical skills such as personal time management, team management and solutions development ranked as the most important attributes for project delivery.

The skills gap featured prominently when the survey asked about the biggest challenges facing future project growth. The top-ranked answer was ‘a lack of understanding among employers or team leaders of future skills needs for project professionals’ (selected by 39% of respondents) followed by ‘accessing enough people with the right project related skills’ and ‘economic and political uncertainty’ (both selected by 33% of respondents). 

A large majority (91%) said their employer has enough time and resources to dedicate to training and development for project professionals, while 83% said their SME places value on training and developing or upskilling project professionals.

The survey follows APM’s recent Golden Thread Report 2024, conducted by PwC Research, which found project management in the UK contributes £186.8 billion of annual gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy – a growth of over £30bn in the last five years. 

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