The guidance gap: SMEs and apprenticeships

The IMF recently forecast that the UK will be the only G7 economy to fall into negative growth this year.

The guidance gap: SMEs and apprenticeships

Vodafone UK’s Head of Small, Medium and Enterprise Business, Claire Harris, explores how apprenticeships could be key to both SME and UK economic growth, and the challenges SMEs currently face when setting  them up. 

The IMF recently forecast that the UK will be the only G7 economy to fall into negative growth this year. At Vodafone Business we see apprenticeships and digital upskilling as one solution for government and business to unlock growth by boosting productivity and building a skilled workforce.

It is worrying to hear that many UK SMEs are currently at risk of cancelling their apprenticeship schemes altogether to reduce cost-of-living burdens on their business. 

Apprenticeships enable skills development, fresh thinking and additional labour to businesses of all sizes, unlocking huge growth and career opportunities in the process. There is sometimes a misconception that apprenticeships work better for larger enterprises, however the SME community has long embraced apprentices and a recent survey by the Institute for Apprenticeships’ revealed that apprentices were in fact most happiest working with the SME market.

As cost-of-living pressures continue to tighten budgets, SMEs are having to make difficult decisions about the future of their apprenticeship schemes. In fact, Vodafone’s recent research revealed that more than half (51%) of UK SMEs have cancelled plans to take on an apprentice due to cost-of-living concerns such as energy and transport. In addition, it found that 20% of SMEs are unsure how to go about hiring an apprentice and 21% said they simply couldn’t afford one.

Cancelling apprenticeships limits the ability to help people of all ages and backgrounds learn and develop new skills. It also reduces the possibility of fostering the brilliant young talent many businesses will need to survive in the years to come. There are a number of financial support schemes available to help SMEs with the cost implications of taking on apprentices, making them aware of them is invaluable. 

If your business has an annual wage bill of less than £3 million, then you only need to pay 5% towards the cost of training and assessing your apprentice, and the government will pay the rest direct to the training provider. Our research found that 44% of SMEs are unaware of this support and half of those say that the funding would motivate them to take on an apprentice. This highlights a significant guidance gap where government and businesses can support raising awareness of the funding available and help SMEs facilitate apprenticeships. 

We therefore welcomed Chief Secretary to the Treasury John Glen’s recent campaigning for young people to consider apprenticeships, highlighting they can provide a rewarding alternative route to university-based education. But, while this drives recruitment efforts for the scheme, further support can be given to guide SMEs on how to set one up and pay for it. 

This is where larger businesses come in. At Vodafone Business, we are committed to making SMEs’ lives easier through our technology and support, so we believe we can play a role in guiding SMEs on the apprenticeship options available and supporting them with funding. 

At Vodafone, we qualify for the government’s apprenticeship levy scheme, which means 0.5% of our total wage costs must go towards funding apprentices or equivalent work-based learning programmes across disciplines such as cloud, Cyber, data DevOps, digital marketing and software development. We see these disciplines as critical in the UK’s digital transformation journey and want to ensure that SMEs can also benefit from them.

That’s why we also partnered with Multiverse to direct funds from Vodafone’s Apprenticeship Levy to UK SMEs. The scheme will see Vodafone Business provide small businesses with £18,000 each to fund their apprenticeship programmes and provide training opportunities for their staff, as well as offer them the opportunity to apply for and secure a fully funded place on Multiverse’s Business Transformation Fellowship where employees can receive training and accreditation alongside their current roles. 

SMEs make up 99.9% of the UK business population making them a major entry point to the UK workforce as well as a significant economic driver. Government and businesses support on the importance on the role that apprenticeships can play in SME businesses and local communities,  and the options available to help them with the cost implications in the current economic climate is vital. 

If you’re a small or medium sized business looking to take the next step on your digital journey, head over to the V-Hub by Vodafone website today to benefit from the following – free of charge: 

  1. Access to the V-Hub Business Knowledge Centre featuring a vast collection of articles, how-to guides, learning and training resources. 
  2. V-Hub users can call 0808 005 7400 to get free 1:1 guidance on your business from our expert advisers.
  3. Access to the business.connected programme – We’ve partnered with Enterprise Nation to deliver a free training programme – delivered exclusively online, and consisting of workshops, webinars and e-learning modules – to empower your small or medium sized business to kickstart digital change, adopt new technology, and stay safe online.
Claire Harris
Claire Harris

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