You only have to look at the statistics to realise that whilst our region has some heavy hitters in terms of large multi-national businesses, it’s the SME community which acts as the driving force in the engine room of Swindon and Wiltshire’s economic machinery. The numbers back this up with over 90% of the region’s business community compromising the “micro”, “small” and “medium” enterprises that cover every sector imaginable, from agritech through to advanced automotive manufacturing and engineering. As with all the constituent elements of the UK’s economy, Swindon and Wiltshire businesses are no different in their under-pinning core necessity, the requirement for a skilled and flexible labour force.

Despite the fog of ambiguity emitting from the offices of Brussels and Westminster across the foreseeable political landscape, businesses across our region continue apace with plans for growth and expansion integral to the agenda. Now more than ever, there is a requirement for individual businesses to take control of their future by exploring the avenues by which they can recruit and evolve their workforce. Whilst this doesn’t mean we would advocate investing all available capital immediately into a recruitment campaign, it does mean boxing smart and understanding the available options and researching which methods best suit your business to get the balance you need.

Recruitment and retention can take a very different path business by business and by no means would we advocate a one size fits all approach to a decision-making process that will help mould and shape the future direction of your organisation. Going into this with your eyes open and understanding what options can be explored will help tailor the approach in the right manner and help avoid unsuccessful scenarios which can scar employers and employees alike.

The UK apprenticeship agenda has undergone a radical evolution over the last few years, again not just for the large levy paying organisations (anyone with an annual wage bill of over £3M) but also for the non-levy businesses, of which we have thousands across Swindon & Wiltshire, many who don’t yet understand fully the benefits that an apprenticeship can bring both financially and beyond.

·       Numbers from across the UK show 75% of businesses who have taken on an apprentice have reported a marked improvement to their product or service. When you combine this with the fact that around 90% of apprentices remain within that business once the training has been completed really demonstrates the value that this talent pipeline can bring to an organisation.

·       Currently non-levy paying employers will contribute only 10% of training costs with the UK government footing the bill for the other 90%. This good news for SMEs gets even better in April 2019 as the employer contribution drops to 5% with the Government picking up the remaining 95%.

·       Business with under 50 employers won’t pay anything if they employ apprentices under the age of 19 and will receive a £1,000 payment to help with associated costs and an additional £1,000 to the training provider.

·       As of April 2019, the larger levy paying organisations will be able to pass on up to 25% of their levy pot onto businesses within their supply chain to help support apprenticeship training costs. This makes a conversation with the larger businesses you are engaged with extremely worthwhile.

·       The breadth of courses available is only increasing. Pretty much every sector is covered with vocations often having multiple levels of qualification that a learner/employee can engage with. https://www.instituteforapprenticeships.org/apprenticeship-standards/ is an amazing resource and you can see clearly against each apprenticeship standard the employers and educational bodies involved in the creation of the training plans (Trailblazer Groups).

·       Our experience across Swindon & Wiltshire in the current training & apprenticeship landscape is that it is fast becoming a buyers’ market. The quality and diversity of delivery methods from providers is increasing by the day, which means that as an SME you can afford to shop around and push training providers to really offer solutions that are tailor made for your organisation.  

In his last budget statement Phillip Hammond announced the UK government would be investing an additional £120M into the UK apprenticeship programme. No matter what happens with the ongoing Brexit debate there is an unavoidable fact that the UK is lagging from a productivity perspective Vs a number of key European neighbours and we need to ensure that we keep up with the competition. The bottom line for businesses across our region is that vocational training is a key pillar to support this and highly unlikely to be disappearing anytime soon. Alongside traditional recruitment programmes, graduate placements and training schemes, SMEs should consider apprenticeships as another crucial instrument within the organisational development toolkit enabling business growth, employee development and loyalty.   

Higher.Futures@swlep.co.uk are available to answer any questions you might have and give guidance around the apprenticeship journey.