The report, published by Forfás, the Government-sponsored enterprise and innovation research body, said SMEs needed to work harder to improve their ability to innovate and market and sell products.
It found that customers were the single most important source of new ideas adopted by exporting SMEs and that links with third-level colleges needed to improve.
Only 25% of sales staff in firms surveyed had a relevant third-level qualification to help their business boost sales, while 67% of marketing staff were suitably qualified. But planned training programmes to improve on-the-job skills were in short supply, with just 22% of sales staff and 11% of those employed in marketing getting access to planned training.
Access to training programmes, by allowing time off and making programmes available in convenient locations, needed to be improved. SMEs also needed assistance in funding training costs, the report said.
Forfás said all business, marketing and sales-related degree courses should contain industry placements as an integral part of coursework. Colleges should also look into providing tailored training programmes to enhance the skill base of technically-qualified sales personnel.
It suggested state business development agency Enterprise Ireland could have a role by expanding the reach of its existing Innovation Management Programme, which could be made available to technical and marketing staff in SMEs.
Forfas also praised existing programmes run by Enterprise Ireland, employment and training agency FÁS and the Irish Software Association, as well as UCC’s diploma in business management aimed at senior managers in the food and drink sector.
The report was prepared in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and the government’s Expert Group on Future Skills Needs.