Learning in SMEs in a time of Volatility and Disruption

Opening date for manuscripts submissions: 1st July 2024 

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Although generating over 50% of employment and approximately 50% of turnover globally, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) continue to face challenges regarding disruption, continuity and reinvention. Learning, particularly in volatile times, is increasingly important in enabling SMEs to overcome such challenges (Li, Ghosh, and Nachmias, 2020). However, learning in SMEs is much more complex than in larger organisations due to factors such as lack of homogeneity, restricted resources and varying objectives (Nolan, Garavan and Lynch, 2020). Knowledge and empirical evidence concerning the nature of learning and how, where and when it occurs in SMEs remains scant, especially with respect to learning in times of disruption. This Special Issue (SI) will address this gap. Specifically, building on the UFHRD 2024 Learning in SMEs conference stream, the proposed SI will advance the conceptual understanding and increase empirical evidence concerning learning in SMEs in times of disruption and volatility and so will be of interest to both academics and practitioners. 

This SI is unique in two important ways:

Firstly, to date there has only been one SI on the topic (HRDI 2019, guest-edited by this SI’s co-guest-editor Short, initially with the late Professor David Gray). However, since then learning in SMEs has been affected by a variety of events including (but not limited to) the global COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, increased digitalisation, e-learning, AI and global political changes. These topics have elicited much scholarly interest since the 2019 SI which suggests that another SI is much needed. Hence, the proposed SI seeks to build on the 2019 one considering all developments since then. 
Secondly, scholars agree that employee learning in SMEs is a neglected area of research (Nolan & Garavan, 2016; Short & Gray, 2018). In particular, there is an increasingly urgent need for a more contextualised approach to exploring the issues arising from this (Coetzer et al., 2019). 

Learning helps organisational agility in dynamic environments as well as facilitating the development of employee expertise and adaptability (Bednall &Sanders, 2017). Yet, gaps remain in existing literature concerning learning in SMEs which need to be addressed. 

These include that prevailing wisdom continues to view learning in SMEs as either a scaled down version of that observed in larger firms, or as largely informal in nature. However, several studies have challenged such notions by suggesting that learning is ubiquitous occurring through ongoing and day-to-day activities within SMEs and that SMEs use novel approaches to incorporate formal and informal learning in order to meet their unique needs (Coetzer et al., 2020). Also the great changes in the global environment, both recent and expected, have been little-explored in the context of learning in SMEs. Therefore there is an urgent need to research the under-explored impact of these on individual and organisational-wide learning within SMEs.

List of Topic Areas

  • What does learning (formal and informal) look like in different types of SMEs (including family businesses, Micro-enterprises and entrepreneurial ventures) in a time of volatility and disruption. 
  • How does technology, digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) affect learning in SMEs. 
  • How does learning in SMEs translate to innovation and competitiveness. 
  • Employee learning in SMEs, rather than the emphasis on owner-managers in the majority of previous literature regarding learning in SMEs (although papers exploring the role of owner/managers in either enabling or hindering learning in SMEs are still welcomed). 
  • The effects of Working From Home and other post-pandemic trends on learning in SMEs.

Submissions Information

Submissions are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts. Registration and access are available here.
Author guidelines must be strictly followed. Please see here.
Authors should select (from the drop-down menu) the special issue title at the appropriate step in the submission process, i.e. in response to ““Please select the issue you are submitting to”. 
Submitted articles must not have been previously published, nor should they be under consideration for publication anywhere else, while under review for this journal.

Key Deadlines

Opening date for manuscripts submissions: 01/07/2024 
Closing date for manuscripts submission: 31/01/2025