SMEs call for further action on skills

More than half of small businesses warn that not enough is being done to help them skill and reskill their workforce
16th October 2020, 12:01am

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SMEs call for further action on skills

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/smes-call-further-action-skills
Retraining: Smes Call For Further Action On Skills From Government

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have called on the government to take urgent action and prioritise upskilling and retraining workers as the end of the Brexit transition period approaches. 

In a report published by the Association of Colleges today, 68 per cent of SMEs said that in order for them to "survive and thrive", skills had to be a top priority for the government. 

The research found that despite the government's pledges on skills, 40 per cent of SME leaders felt it was more difficult now than it was five years ago to find employees with the right skills. Just over half did not think that enough was being done to help them skill and reskill their workforce as the UK approached the end of the Brexit transition period.


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At the beginning of October, prime minister Boris Johnson announced the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, which will see adults without an A level or equivalent qualification being offered a free, fully funded FE course to try and provide them with "skills valued by employers". 

Skills and training 'are an urgent priority'

David Hughes, chief executive at the Association of Colleges, said that the economy must be skills-led if we are to support businesses and people through this pandemic.

He said: "It is only through training and retraining that we will be able to make sure that people have the skills they need to keep their jobs and to apply for new ones, and that businesses have the employees they need. Both will allow the country to grow back better.

"Skills gaps did not emerge in this pandemic - they are long-standing challenges which have been exacerbated by Covid-19 and the UK nearing the end of the Brexit transition period. Government has rightly expressed its commitment to prioritising skills, but now we need the investment to flow quickly to the right people and places. People and businesses need skills and training as an urgent priority if they are going to survive the coming months, and thrive in the coming years."

Colleges are a 'key piece of the puzzle'

The study also revealed that seven in 10 (71 per cent) of SMEs believed colleges are important to business for training and retraining staff. As a business, 39 per cent said they would look to train, retrain or upskill their employees through colleges, compared to 21 per cent who would turn to a university or 13 per cent to online courses. A further 44 per cent believed colleges are best placed to skill their future workforce, compared with universities (22 per cent) and schools (21 per cent).

Joe Fitzsimons, head of education and skills at the Institute of Directors, said that colleges would be a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to addressing skills gaps. 

He said: "Skills are fundamental to business, and the coronavirus outbreak has only made this clearer. However, the pandemic has also put further pressure on a training system that was already in need of an upgrade. For many firms, with uncertain cashflow, it's proving challenging to invest further in training staff. Business leaders are ready to work with the education sector and government to ensure we can address crucial skills gaps in the months and years ahead, and the UK's colleges will undoubtedly be a key piece of the puzzle."

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