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Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Harry Matlay is Reader in SME Development at the University of Central England, Birmingham, UK. He specialises in VET, Entrepreneurship Education, Organisational Learning and Knowledge Management in SMEs. Prior to joining UCE, he worked in senior positions in industry, as an entrepreneur and international business consultant, and as a researcher at University of Warwick, UK. He joined the UCE Business School in 1998 and currently contributes to the research activities of the Business School. He is the Editor of the Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development (JSBED).
This special issue is the 5th in a series that was first published in 2000. As the Guest Editor of the series, I look back with pleasure on a long and exciting journey of initiation, learning, discovery and fulfilment. Perhaps the most profound aspect of the journey relates to the process of change and our reaction and involvement with it. Writing an Editorial for the 5th special issue in an established and well-received series should be an easy, polished and leisurely process: after all, I have compiled one on four previous occasions. Surprisingly, however, it is proving much more difficult and challenging than before. There are many tried and trusted options at my disposal. For example, I could take a “clinical” approach and summarise and/or critically review the contributions included in it. Alternatively, I might extract the salient aspects of previous editorials, evaluate them and round up the Editorial with suggestions for improvements. After all, no one could reasonably deny the success of the series as well as its impact and contribution and there is always room for improvement and innovation. On this occasion, however, I would prefer to let the narrative develop, follow its natural flow and choose a life and a path of its own.
I first met Rick Holden, the Editor of Education + Training, at a biannual vocational education and training (VET) conference in 1999. Over dinner, we discussed the possibility of publishing a special issue with an exclusive SME perspective. At the time, I had highlighted a paucity of research on this topic, as well as an apparent “paradox” in small business training. On my return to UCE Birmingham, I spent a few days telephoning and e-mailing colleagues, trainers, policy makers and small business owner/managers in order to gauge their reactions to the project. I was pleasantly surprised by their positive attitude and the encouragement that I received from most of them. There was a journal attached to the VET conference, but I was the only contributor on small business issues. I no longer participate in the conference or contribute to that journal, simply because editorial and organisational changes have reinforced its predominantly large business focus. Such attitudes are typical of mainstream journal editors and their fascination with large businesses, combined with ignorance of small business issues, make a mockery of dissemination policies as well as government rhetoric. Interestingly, the vast majority of individuals that I converse with recognise that small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make up over 99 per cent of the economically active business units in the private sector and contribute to well over 60 per cent of employment and gross domestic product. Without exception, this holds true for all industrially developed and developing nations. Paradoxically, however, over 99 per cent of publications focus on large and multinational businesses! I admit my obsession with smaller businesses and I really do not mind being called “Dr SME”. In fact, I am rather amused by this nickname and look on it as the acknowledgement that my peers, students and readers know what I stand for …
In the first special issue (2000, Vol. 42 No. 4/5) we set out a tentative “twenty-first century agenda” for VET research in SMEs. All the contributions were from British researchers and the focus was on the SME sector of the British economy. The second special issue (2001, Vol. 43 No. 8/9) redressed the imbalance by focussing exclusively on VET issues in an international context. In the next special issue (2002, Vol. 44 No. 8/9) we combined both national and international perspectives on VET within an SME framework. Beginning with the fourth special issue (2003, Vol. 45, No. 8/9) we widened the international perspective to include topics such as education, training, learning and knowledge management in SMEs. In the current special issue (Vol. 46 No. 8/9, 2004) we consider an even wider perspective on VET topics, in line with the leading edge developments in SMEs.
I am told by many readers and stakeholders that this special issue is eagerly awaited each year and much anticipated for the wealth of new and specialist knowledge that it contains as well as its critical and informative value. Such positive and constructive feedback is very much appreciated, and it impacts in terms of continuity, perspective and innovativeness. In June 2004, while at a conference in Hong Kong, I had lunch with a number of well-known academics and researchers from China, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Very quickly, the conversation focussed on this series and I was pleased to hear just how much these special editions contribute to research and teaching in the region. Surprisingly, however, my colleagues claimed to know very little about the process involved in editing a special edition. Under pressure, I promised to elucidate some of the mysteries involved in the long and arduous editorial process and the hard lessons that I learned from this enjoyable task.
On average, from conception to delivery, it takes about two years to put together a special issue of this size and quality. All the articles are commissioned from a wide variety of academic and practitioner sources. About 60 articles are invited and about 30 contributions are received by the tentative deadline. I initially review these and those that are judged suitable are sent out for a double blind refereeing process. Depending on the initial refereeing outcomes, a number of these articles are revised and sent out for second stage reviewing. On average, 14 articles are submitted to the Managing Editor for publication. At any time, however, there is a considerable “tail” of articles overlapping the process and making it even more complex and difficult to manage. I view each submission as a victory over considerable odds, and for a short while I enjoy a warm feeling of success – before the next special edition demands my attention. There is much detail that I could include here, as well as numerous anecdotes and also a “book of excuses” that I could write in relation to actual and would be contributors. Ultimately, I genuinely believe that only other editors really know or appreciate what is involved in editing a journal or a special issue. But I hope that the brief information presented here would suffice and satisfy the curiosity of outsiders …
Finally, as it has become customary, I would like to extend my gratitude to all the contributors to this special issue – authors, referees, advisors as well as to Paula Fernandez, Managing Editor and Rick Holden, Editor – for all their hard work, patience and commitment to the 5th special issue on education and training issues in SMEs.
Harry MatlayReader in SME Development at the University of Central England, Birmingham, UK. He specialises in VET, Entrepreneurship Education, Organisational Learning and Knowledge Management in SMEs. Prior to joining UCE, he worked in senior positions in industry, as an entrepreneur and international business consultant, and as a researcher at University of Warwick, UK. He joined the UCE Business School in 1998 and currently contributes to the research activities of the Business School. He is the Editor of the Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development (JSBED).