Huge support for apprenticeships from SMEs

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

Almost all small business owners believe apprenticeships are at least partly the solution to the UK’s skills gap crisis, with almost six in ten seeing them as a “valuable alternative to university”. But nearly half feel not enough is being done to encourage young people to consider them.

According to Government figures, 1.72 million employees were judged by their bosses to have gaps in their skills, an increase of 45,000 on figures compiled in 2017.

A third of firms told researchers for a study commissioned by Close Brothers Asset Finance and Leasing as having an apprenticeship scheme of their own, with just over half saying that, if financial assistance was available from either the government or the private sector to help contribute towards wages or training, they would put forward a candidate.

On the eve of National Apprenticeship Week, The National Apprenticeship Service states that 96 per cent of employers with apprentices have experienced at least one benefit from taking them on, and most can count at least eight benefits.

In addition, 74 per cent of employers say that apprentices improved products or service quality, and 78 per cent say that they improved productivity while 73 per cent say that staff morale is improved by having apprentices.

Steve Gee, CEO of Close Brothers’ Asset Finance’s Industrial Equipment Division, said: “As a funder of a number of sectors that rely on apprentices, we’ve long seen the need – and value – of apprenticeship schemes, which encourage new talent into industries that really need them.

“We’ve been funding an apprenticeship scheme since 2015, in partnership with the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. The reality is, it’s not cheap for an SME to invest in apprentices – and it’s important small business owners see it as an investment and not a cost. Handled correctly, apprenticeships can help an SME flourish and at the same time develop the individual apprentice.

“I believe we all have a duty to look at where, as ‘UK PLC’, we need to concentrate our efforts and money. I would strongly encourage firms to support apprentices – we know first-hand what a hugely positive impact they can have.”

Nikki Jones, director of the University of Sheffield AMRC Training Centre said: “We’re transforming lives through apprenticeships. We combine classroom learning and shop floor industrial experience to equip new, young talent with all the skills they need to become the advanced engineers of tomorrow.

“It is crucial to invest in apprenticeships and support employers to take on apprentices to help close the huge skills gap in the industry currently.”

As for apprentices themselves, the best place to be one is probably Wigan. At least that’s according to the tech startup, Multiverse, who ranked areas using criteria from government and ONS data including the number of apprentices per business, growth in the number of new apprentices, the area’s employment rate, and the affordability of renting.

Stoke-on-Trent, and Newcastle-under-Lyme also made the top three by scoring consistently highly in every category, particularly for the high number of apprentices per business.

CEO Euan Blair said: “Apprenticeships are an incredible vehicle for social mobility across the UK. The spread of opportunities supports our belief in the ability for apprenticeships to be the tool that enables equitable access to economic opportunity, for everyone.”

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024