London, 18th March 2015 - With the General Election just round the corner, last week’s Budget gave us an important insight into the Government’s priorities. For SMEs there was quite a lot to be enthusiastic about. But more should be planned for upskilling the UK workforce.
There was an acknowledgement that business rates should be lower and simpler, a reminder that broadband speeds have been improved significantly and corporation tax will fall to 20% in a few days’ time.
More specifically, the Chancellor announced a new digital apprenticeship scheme using vouchers, designed to give employers some relief over apprenticeship funding. Under the scheme employers will be able to purchase staff training directly from providers using the voucher and pay only the balance of training costs not fully funded.
This system will be administered by the Skills Funding Agency which was set up to relieve concerns that, under initial proposals smaller businesses would have to bear the cost of training upfront, handle public funding, and deal with all associated bureaucracy. Given that SMEs account for more than 99% of UK businesses and 70% of UK economic activity, it’s right that the Government has come up with this improvement to apprentice training provision.
It is also encouraging to see investment being made in developing the diverse skills of our young workforce. Practical incentives which support more employers to offer apprenticeships help not just the business concerned but UK economy itself. We urge more employers to make use of the scheme in setting up quality training provisions tailored to the needs of business and its workforce.
But there was little else which makes significant difference to how UK employers develop workforce skills, or use existing workforce skills more effectively. Mr Osborne stated that Britain now has the highest employment rate in her history, and that there is now a record number of people in work. Filtered.com would have liked to hear an acknowledgment of UK’s skills gap and more on how to redress this sorely blunted edge for competing internationally, to make the most of high employment levels. This would go some way to fulfill Mr Osborne’s own aspiration  that the UK overtakes the German economy by 2030.
A more highly skilled workforce will also be able to find more of the right work which is also important but buried by raw employment figures. Only a highly skilled and motivated workforce can enable UK businesses to truly grow, prosper and compete globally.
A recent study conducted by Filtered.com reveal that 75% of UK employees claim there is no or insufficient training provided at their workplace, and an alarming 60% of respondents admit that they themselves need additional workplace skills to perform their job optimally. The Government must do more to promote training schemes that offer core business skills which contribute no less than £88bn to the UK economy. A lack of investment in training in these areas is likely to slow the growth of UK businesses in the short, medium- and long-term. In November 2014 the BBC found that 78% of businesses strongly agreed training is worthy of investment for improving workplace performance, productivity, and drive growth in the UK economy.
Such statistics should serve as a wake-up call for both the Government and the Opposition. There’s some important work to do here. For example, were we to supplement UK’s world-class university standards with an equally strong government- and employer-backed system of workplace skills provision, the UK would be in a far better position to accelerate the economic recovery.