This is the sixth blog in a series exploring the findings of Microsoft’s SMB Voice and Attitudes to Technology Study. Parts One, Two, Three, Four, and Five are available on the partner blog.

Our small and medium-sized business (SMB) customers are counting on us to help them keep pace with the world’s rapid digital transformation. During the pandemic, we all witnessed two years’ worth of progress accelerated into the span of two months — but without the right technology skills, SMBs are at risk of ending up on the wrong side of a digital divide. That’s where partners come in. With your specialized skills and knowledge, you can help SMB customers reap the richest benefits from their digital transformation.

Employee skills are closely linked to business growth, share price performance, and employee confidence. This means that there are real benefits to digital skilling, and conversely, threats to business performance in the absence of such programs. In our new reality, 90% of professional roles now require some digital skill, but only 23% of SMBs have a formal skilling program. With the latest research, we’ve compiled some insights on how partners can come alongside customers to close this gap.

The changing future of jobs

To understand the full scope of SMBs’ need for digital skilling, we must look at the future of the job market. The World Economic Forum projects that by 2025, 85 million jobs could be affected by the widespread shift to automation and that an incredible 97 million new jobs could emerge. Even if we were able to upskill 100% of the existing workforce, that would still leave 12 million individuals to be appropriately skilled on digital technologies in order to keep businesses running.

Defining the digital divide

But these numbers don’t tell the same story for everyone. Without the same spending power to hire skilled staff as their larger counterparts, smaller companies are at risk of getting left behind. Additionally, the roles that are most likely to be displaced by automation disproportionately affect women. The International Monetary Fund projects that 11% of jobs currently held by women are at risk of elimination as a result of digital technologies — a higher percentage than for jobs held by men.

The predicted digital divide also impacts minorities. Of the jobs with an automation risk of over 85%, white workers represented 23.03% of the automation risk, compared to Black workers who represented 23.91%, and Latino workers at 30.50%.

How partners can help

As experts in the latest digital tools and solutions, partners are well-positioned to help SMB customers thrive amid industry changes in an innovative and equitable manner. This may look one of two ways:

  1. Through managed services or other contractor-based situations, you can fill the role of a customer’s skilled expert. Because SMBs operate with small workforces, they don’t always employ in-house specialists for every tech solution, instead relying on outside contractors. This is something we’ve especially seen with regards to cybersecurity, but will likely expand across other solution areas. And based on our Customer and Partner Experience (CPE) surveys, we know that our SMB customers are most satisfied when they work with a full-service provider.
  2. As a customer’s trusted technology advisor, you can provide digital skilling for end users or key roles on the technologies that you already supply. This is an opportunity to deepen your relationships and further delight customers by offering customized skilling that help customers reap the full benefits of the technologies they’ve invested in.

Additionally, in the US, UK and Australia, partners can point SMBs to training and resources provided free-of-charge by Microsoft on the SMB Resource Center.

The strength of the partner ecosystem lies in your close relationships with customers, and it is by understanding and addressing their unique needs that digital skilling efforts will have the greatest impact. By building on familiar conversations about digital transformation, partners can help SMBs chart a path forward and claim their place in the future of work.


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