SMEs not looking to apprentices despite skills gap woes

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Thousands of small businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber are struggling to find the right skills to help their business grow.

More than a quarter of the region’s 382,000 small and medium-sized enterprises said their workforce is lacking expertise.

Worringly, almost six in 10 businesses said they did not think they would be able to address this through recruitment.

It comes at a time when business leaders are debating the best way to boost growth, with improving skills and boosting productivity high on the agenda.

The figures, from finance group Close Brothers, cast doubt on whether the Government’s drive to boost apprenticeship numbers will be successful.

Just eight per cent of the SMEs said they plan to hire an apprentice to address the skills gap.

Stephen Hodges, chief executive of Close Brothers Banking Division, said the data shows a “worrying trend” for SMEs.

He said: “Despite a clear need for more skilled workers, hiring apprentices to address this simply isn’t possible for the majority of companies based in this region. This is only made worse when macro-issues also impact on their ability to grow and meet their ambitions.”

Finance group Close Brothers is working with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Sheffield to place trainees with local businesses.

Its SME Apprenticeship scheme is subsidising 20 apprentices at the AMRC, providing part-funding in years one and two.

The survey found that four-fifths (78 per cent) do not have an apprentice programme in place and over half (55 per cent) don’t plan to start one.

Mr Hodges said: “We see the issues of cost, red tape and a lack of time also affecting many aspects of growth amongst the Yorkshire-based firms we work with.”

Macro-economic issues, including the strong pound’s impact on exports and speculation over rate rises are also affecting SMEs ability to spend on hiring, Close Brothers said.