A new business survey has revealed that almost a third of small businesses feel that their workforce doesn’t have the skills that their business needs. And over half don’t believe that they will be able to find suitable recruits to address the problem. But only one in 20 of the SMEs planning to take on new staff will look for an apprentice.

The quarterly business barometer survey undertaken by business finance specialists Close Brothers surveyed 900 SMEs and found that 75% of the companies didn’t have an apprenticeship programme and just over half don’t plan to start one. The main reasons for not taking apprentices were cost (49%), red tape (19%) and time needed for training (14%).

Jayne Worthington, Managing Director of The Skills Company, part of the not-for-profit Manchester Growth Company, which is one of Greater Manchester’s largest apprenticeship training providers, said: “The Government’s ambitious target of achieving three million apprenticeship starts during the life of this parliament will be under real threat if small employers don’t engage with apprenticeships. Hundreds of small companies have found that recruiting apprentices not only brings new blood and fresh ideas to a business, but can have an immediate effect on productivity.”

“Many small employers are not aware that all the training costs for 16 to 18 year old apprentices are funded by the Government and part funded for over 19s. Employers in Greater Manchester employing under 250 employees who haven’t taken an apprentice on in the last 12 months could also be eligible for a grant of £1500 if they recruit an apprentice before the end of this year. And training providers like The Skills Company take most of the administrative burden from employers, leaving them to get on with running their business. Recruiting and training your own apprentices really can be the answer to addressing skill shortages for SMEs.”

supplier of ladders and equipment for working safely at height. Wardworth have recruited apprentices through The Skills Company for several years. Gail said: “Despite the fact that we are a small company, we put investing in the skills of our workforce, and especially the younger staff at the heart of what we do. Our first apprentice was recruited to see if it would work for us, but now apprenticeships are the key recruitment method driving the continued growth of the business. The company ethos is to bring young people in as apprentices, and to develop them in our ways of working whilst aiming to help them maximise their own potential.”

“Our apprentices have brought energy, enthusiasm and new ideas into the company. We have found that the introduction of more young people into the team has made us more ‘fleet of foot’ as a company. We are more likely to try new things and be less risk-averse. The projects that our apprentices and former apprentices have led on have often resulted in tangible business improvements. Almost half of our workforce has come through the Apprenticeship route, and we see this investment as crucial to our growth, enabling us to nurture talent, develop them in our ways of working, and equip them with recognized qualifications.”

“We won the best retail business award at the Greater Manchester Skills for Business Awards earlier this year, and we’ve just been awarded the Investors in People Gold Standard, so I think that shows that our investment in the skills of our staff is really paying dividends.”