05 Feb 2024 / Uncategorized

National Apprenticeship Week 2024: The balance of investing in the workforce

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Apprenticeships have been the cornerstone of workplace training since the 16th century, and have helped nurture skills for countless industries. But in the modern business landscape, how do smaller businesses continue to invest in this vital stream of training while managing their own day-to-day priorities?

At Time Finance we’re huge advocates of investing in the future workforce. Everyone in our team has, or is, building a career that is being helped along by mentors and colleagues that spend their time helping to develop people’s skills, and we see the impact that this kind of investment of time has on people within our team every day. There is absolutely no doubt that apprenticeships and other forms of workplace training are incredibly valuable. That being said, they are also a commitment. Spending time training people while also tending to your day job isn’t always easy, especially for small businesses. Sometimes the short term priorities - which are undoubtedly pressing - become an obstacle to spending quality time upskilling people within the business. But as with all aspects of owning and running a business, investing in the long-term is so important.

Do SMEs have the time to deliver apprenticeships?

To understand how businesses are currently feeling about investing time and resources in workforce development, we asked our community whether SMEs can afford to take on apprentices while they battle overheads, skills shortages and recruitment challenges. Of those we surveyed, 60% said ‘no’. This isn’t a huge majority but it points to a bigger issue. SMEs are dealing with a lot, and while they struggle with everyday challenges, do they really have the time, energy and resources to train their employees?

It’s important to note that a lack of intent is not the problem. Any business owner who cares about their industry will want to invest in its future workforce. The business community is also full of people who want to pay forward the care and attention they had early on in their careers. We love to see new talent coming through the ranks, and we’re not alone. So how do time-poor business owners overcome the hurdles that stand between them and their apprenticeship ambitions?

Here are our top five recommendations for any business considering apprenticeships or other work-based training:

  1. Plan your finances; This underpins every aspect of running a business, but sound financial planning is a must when you're planning your team structure and any associated training programmes. This helps you ensure you have the right capacity in your team to  manage your everyday priorities while also keeping an eye on the long-term.
  2. Look at SME apprenticeship funding; It’s important to look into your funding options for apprenticeships. Larger businesses can access the Apprenticeship Levy, which gives businesses an annual Government allowance of £15,000. SMEs can access Government funding that covers 95% of their apprenticeship costs.
  3. Designate an apprentice advocate; having one or more dedicated members of your team assigned to support your apprentices can go great lengths in ensuring training programmes stay on track. It also helps build team management skills so it’s mutually beneficial.
  4. Re-prioritise; New challenges and unexpected bumps in the road are part and parcel of owning and running a business. Being agile and adaptable is essential to responding to new priorities while still keeping one eye on the longer-term picture.
  5. Make it part of your business culture; No matter what your ambition, if you lack the values and substance to back it up, it is unlikely to be a success. Making workplace training a part of a business’ culture is so valuable, not just because you keep your training on course, but you also start to see mentoring, training and coaching become an ingrained habit amongst your team - and when you see that, it is so rewarding.
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