SMEs could deliver more apprentices


In a new report, business lobbying Group the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has indicated that with appropriate governmental support, the UK’s small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), could take on over two million more apprentices. Unicom comments.

Getting reform right

The FSB recently released a new report called Make or Break: Getting Apprenticeship Reform Right for Small Businesses. Within the paper, the lobbying organisation noted that 24% of its members already have an apprentice. The same number, FSB argued, have the means to take on as many as two million more apprentices, if they are provided with the appropriate incentives by the UK government.

Overcoming barriers

The report also revealed the key barriers preventing British SMEs from hiring more apprentices. This includes the expenses involved in training a new apprentice, which the FSB expects to cause a decline in the number of companies taking on apprentices in future. In order to reduce the costs of training new apprentices, FSB suggests, Whitehall should supply SMEs with a more generous incentive to take on more apprentices than those which are currently being considering.

Make-or-break moment

Commenting on the report’s findings, FSB Chairman Mike Cherry noted: “Smaller businesses are taking on more apprentices than ever before. What’s more, a quarter of our members say they are considering employing an apprentice in the future. This presents a huge opportunity and is great news for vocational training, which has become an increasingly attractive option for young people put off by the rising cost and uncertain returns of a university degree.”Going on, Cherry was quoted by SME Insider, a business news and advice publication, saying: “We are at a make-or-break moment. We need the Government to hit the right balance between incentives and support. While many small firms are committed to apprenticeships, many more continue to be worried about the time and personal commitment required.”

Cherry’s advice

Offering further advice for Whitehall, Cherry indicated that there are three areas ministers should focus on. He suggested that first, ministers supply high growth potential-SMEs with more targeted and localised information. Second, he argued that UK-based small companies require specific and practical guidance on hiring apprentices. Finally, Cherry said that it is vital the Whitehall provides a more generous support package to SMEs which hire apprentices.

Bridging skills gaps

It is becoming clear that UK small businesses are facing skills shortages. Last year, a poll of 893 UK SMEs found that 31% believe that their employees lack the required skills. However, the Guardian points out, despite these skills gaps, many SMEs are still not taking on apprentices.The biggest ‘disincentives’ to taking on apprentices named by the poll’s respondents included cost (49%), regulation (19%) and training (14%). Within this context, Cherry makes a valid point; Whitehall may wish to provide SMEs with more support in order to boost British apprenticeship figures.