£4m fund to boost training for SME sector

Businesses in Cheshire and Warrington are being urged to take advantage of free training being offered to SMEs to help upskill staff, raise productivity and boost business growth.

A fund of £4m has been made available for businesses in the region 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 around 795,200 people of working age living in Cheshire and Warrington, an area which offers particularly strong industry knowledge and skills in engineering, energy and business services sectors.

However, over the next ten years demand for skills in Cheshire and Warrington is forecast to rise significantly, driven by economic growth, the delivery of major projects and replacement demand.

Ebrahim Dockrat, external funding director of Calderdale College, the prime contractor responsible for delivering for the project, explains: “Based on the region’s specific skills gaps, we have developed a range of flexible and bespoke training plans, designed to help SMEs in Cheshire and Warrington 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 who 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.

Individuals and businesses across the country are already benefiting from the training, such as Priscilla Spooner, who, having worked her way up from apprentice to manager at Limelight Hair and Beauty, in Warrington, wanted to develop her career options.

Priscilla has now almost completed her six months’ training as an apprentice assessor. “I started as an apprentice seven years ago and now I manage the salon so this seemed the next logical step for me,” she said.

“I’d looked into training before but it was very expensive; now it’s fully funded, which is great. It’s provided me with an excellent opportunity to take my career to the next level. There’ll be other people, similar to me, who want to progress but who don’t realise there’s help out there to access this kind of training.”

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,” said 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 Local Enterprise Partnership area, employing fewer than 250 people with an annual turnover of less than £50m.