Apprentices are the solution to addressing the UK’s skills gap, say 82 per cent of UK SMEs in results obtained from the Close Brothers Business Barometer, a quarterly survey that questions over 900 UK and RoI SME owners and senior management across a range of sectors and regions.
‘Skills shortages have made headline news recently and it’s clearly an issue that SMEs feel very strongly about,’ says Neil Davies, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance.
‘Many businesses are very concerned about where their next cohort of skilled workers is going to come from and the answer, they feel, is more apprenticeships.
‘Our research tells us that one in five small to medium sized businesses have their own apprentice scheme while 58 per cent feel it’s not right for their business; the remaining 22 per cent cite lack of affordability as the reason why they don’t have one of their own.
‘Clearly, not every business has a need for an apprentice; however, the fact that for many it’s simply too expensive shows that more needs to be done. Close Brothers has long been a supporter of apprenticeships, with two schemes currently underway in the manufacturing and transport sectors.’
SMEs firmly believe that apprenticeships are a viable substitute to university, with 76 per cent of business owners agreeing with the statement ‘apprenticeships are a valuable alternative to university’.
‘The number of school leavers choosing apprenticeships over university has risen by over 20 per cent since 2010,’ says Davies.
‘For the industries we serve, this is clearly a positive development and for many, one of the main attractions of apprenticeships is the opportunity to earn while they learn and because the schemes are linked to businesses, in many cases it mean they are able to walk into a full-time job after they have finished.
‘But apprenticeships don’t necessarily close the door on university – there’s no reason why someone can’t do both because higher-level apprenticeships can lead to a foundation degree, meaning going to university at a later stage needn’t be off the cards.’
Nationally, 49 per cent of business owners answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘if assistance was available either from either the government or the private sector, would you participate in an apprenticeship scheme?’.
‘At a regional level, there were relatively wide variances between those businesses that would seek assistance and those who would not, most likely because of the distribution of industry sectors,’ says Davies.
‘For example, the West Midlands, which has long been a manufacturing and engineering powerhouse ranked towards the bottom of the list but has historically used apprenticeships to ensure succession planning.
‘Businesses in the South East, on the other hand may feel less well equipped to create their own schemes, and as such would be more likely to seek outside assistance.’