East Midlands’ SMEs missing out on free skills training

Businesses across East Midlands are being urged to take advantage of free training that is being offered to small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to help upskill staff, raise productivity and boost business growth.

A fund of £7.8m has been made available for businesses across Greater Lincolnshire and Leicestershire through the Skills Support for the Workforce project, but businesses only have until spring next year to apply.

The scheme, which is funded by the European Social Fund, launched last year to give SMEs the chance for their staff to gain professional training across a range of skills and sectors.
There are over 500,000 people of working age living in Greater Lincolnshire and more than 425,800 in Leicestershire. However, employers have reported that they find it difficult to recruit due to potential employees lacking academic qualifications or with the required levels of training.

According to the Greater Lincolnshire LEP, employers in the area estimate that six per cent of their workforce has no qualifications and in key industries such as agri-food, manufacturing and engineering this rises to up to 10 per cent.

Whereas in Leicestershire, employers report a lack of people with the right leadership and management skills as the key challenge. A dedicated pot of £1.8m has been specifically allocated to developing leadership and management skills in Leicester and the county to help upskill staff.

Ebrahim Dockrat, external funding director of Calderdale College, the prime contractor responsible for delivering for the project, explained: “Based on the specific skills gaps, we have developed a range of flexible and bespoke training plans, designed to help SMEs in Greater Lincolnshire and Leicestershire grow their business.

“Not only can training help increase productivity and the services that businesses can offer, it also motivates and engages the workforce and, as a result, improves employee retention.”

Research has found that employees that undertake non-compulsory, work-related training do their jobs better and are more satisfied with their work. However, a lack of time and potential costs act as a barrier to accessing training. The Skills Support for the Workforce project is designed to tackle these challenges.

Businesses across the region are already benefiting from the training, such as The Kenwick Park Estate, near Louth, a 34 bedroom hotel and lodge complex with spa and golf course.

Melissa Watson, general manager of Kenwick Park Hotel, said: “The WorldHost training, which is just one of the courses offered through Skills Support for the Workforce, was delivered by First College and has helped to get everyone in our business on the same page.

“Our skill gaps in customer service were identified in the Training Needs Assessment. This was then addressed in the training, which has given our staff the right skills to promote the business in a uniformed way, to deliver a consistent level of service to customers.

“Some members of staff are now looking at further training to develop skills and sustain our high level of service and we have plans for all new staff to complete the WorldHost training offered by Skills Support for the Workforce. In addition, the company is now applying for WorldHost recognition, which demonstrates that a business has developed a culture of excellent service and also shows that it is willing to invest in staff members’ professional development.”

The project is co-financed by the European Union’s European Social Fund and the Education and Skills Funding Agency and is available for SMEs seeking non-compulsory work-based training to support their business growth plan.

“As this training is funded with European money this is the last project of its kind,” explained Mr Dockrat. “This funding is only available until July 2018 and so it’s a case of get it whilst you still can.”

Delivered by Calderdale College – the country’s largest provider of European Social Fund funded training – through local providers, the training is for businesses based in the Greater Lincolnshire and Leicestershire Local Enterprise Partnership areas.

For more information and to see if your business is eligible for fully-funded training please visit http://ssw.fundingunit.org.uk.