Eugene Sadler-Smith and Jonathan Lean
This chapter examines the practice of human resource development in smaller firms and explores, through empirical research, some of the extant notions of small firm HRD. We shall begin by considering some general aspects of HRD activities (conceptualised in terms of the systematic approach) and HRD methods (the means by which HRD is facilitated) in order to provide context and to inform the research aims. We shall then focus on HRD in smaller firms by examining HRD as a policy intervention, the effect of size and organisational characteristics on small firm HRD, barriers to HRD in smaller firms and finally, the attitude and role of the owner-manager in facilitating HRD. This review of the field will provide the conceptual backcloth for our empirical investigations. Through exploring these issues we hope to provide a descriptive framework that may form a basis for further theoretical and empirical elaboration of small firm HRD. The chapter should be seen in the context of a field of inquiry in which
(i) some have argued there has been a noticeable paucity of research;
(ii) researchers and HRD specialists have been ‘content to offer solutions which were more relevant to the business strategies of larger firms’;
(iii) the majority of owner-managers have been sceptical towards government involvement in their affairs, including the provision of HRD initiatives.
The research is important in an economic environment in which the majority of workers in the United Kingdom are employed in small and medium sized firms, and in a political context in which enterprise and small business management is high on the agendas of European governments. Within this political and economic landscape there is increasing recognition by companies that people and their skills are an important factor of production and that learning is a crucial source of competitive advantage (Iles 1996:72). Against this backdrop HRD has a key role to play in enhancing performance in organisations of all sizes, but in order to manage small firm HRD and maximise its potential we must at first understand it.