A NEW scheme has been created with the aim of helping small businesses in the Leeds City Region invest in developing the skills of their workforce.
The Response Project, which offers free support to firms, has been launched by Leeds City College and partner companies. It is backed by Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
A strategic group made up of employers, Chambers of Commerce and business in the Leeds City Region has been set up to oversee the delivery of the project.
Tom Keeney, regional director for Yorkshire and Humber for BT, who chairs the group, told the Yorkshire Post that the programme was the first of its kind in the Leeds City Region.
The programme is benefiting from more than £10m of funding from the European Union and UK government which is being made available through the Skills Funding Agency to finance training for people in employment, said Mr Keeney.
The Response Project aims to support employers across the Leeds City Region by providing support and advice on a range of training matters.
This could include taking on an apprentice, coaching and mentoring or enabling existing employees to gain new skills so they can support business growth plans.
Mr Keeney said that 99.5 per cent of businesses in the Leeds City Region employ less than 250 people.
He said: “They are the engine of our economy and the employers of the vast majority of the 1.3 million workforce.
“Improving their employees’ skills will improve their businesses, create jobs and deliver growth and I urge every small business to get involved.”
The Response Project aims to promote the employment of young people and support the progression of individuals with low skills throughout the Leeds City Region, a project spokesman said.
He said: “It aims to give small businesses a big boost by helping them invest in the skills of their workforce – which every business knows is the key to outperforming competitors.
“It is tailored to meet the needs of small businesses. We understand what you need, and we’re here to provide it.
“And we also understand that providing that help free means that small businesses can enjoy the benefits of what we’re offering without the need to invest their own funds.
“This is a fantastic offer for small businesses, which are vital to the success of the Leeds City Region economy.”
Mr Keeney, who sits on the employment and skills board of the Leeds City Region LEP, said of the project: “It has been set up to support SMEs in the region.
“We are looking to upskill and provide opportunities for people who are in work in SMEs to increase employability, support their career progression.”
He said that sometimes there is a “lack of attention” to this area.
“I think it’s been a difficult period for all businesses, including small businesses. I think one of the biggest challenges is confidence, confidence to make an investment in training and development.
“It’s quite a hard thing to get your head around if you’ve just come out of fairly difficult and challenging times.
“I think that’s a really important thing we are trying to do through the programme is try to get the message to small businesses that there’s a real value in training employees and addressing skills gaps because it will mean they are more successful in the future.”
He added: “It is worthwhile investing in those skills within your organisation in order to grow and develop people.
“You’ll get more out of them and they will get more out of their employment and will want to be with an employer.
“People do see skills and availability of skilled labour as a challenge but it is important we all play a part of training people who are in employment, both for your own organisation but also from the employability perspective as well.”
Jennie Beaumont, head of external funding and business enterprise for Leeds City College, said “Leeds City College are delighted to be involved in taking an active role in supporting the continued growth of the Leeds City Region economy.
“We ask that companies who have a training or development need to come forward and take advantage of this wonderful offer.”
To find out more about the Response Project and how to access support, contact the Response team at 0113 3087974 or via the website www.theresponse.co.uk