Just 30% of SMEs across the South East currently offer apprenticeships, according to new research from the Close Brothers Business Barometer, a quarterly survey of SME owners and senior managers.
The Business Barometer also reveals that 61% of those in the region who do take on apprentices say that it gives them access to the best young talent, while 17% say that apprentices improve business productivity. Just over one in 10 state that it allows them to develop skill sets the business may be lacking.
Commenting on the figures, CEO of Close Brothers Asset Finance Mike Randall said: “It’s evident that SMEs who participate in apprenticeship schemes see clear business benefits in doing so, and I think it would be to the benefit of the wider economy if participation in such programmes were to increase.
“Apprenticeships becoming more embedded in our culture can only be a good thing as they allow employers to develop a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce, while at the same time improving employability prospects for the younger generation.”
Engineering UK has warned that the UK doesn’t have either the capacity or the rate of growth needed to meet the forecast demand for skilled engineers by 2022.
Randall added: “The demand for skilled employees will become greater as the economy grows, and at present there are real fears that the demand won’t be met, particularly in industry sectors such as engineering.
“Apprenticeships could play a key role in helping SMEs bridge that skills gap but perhaps the cost and process of recruitment and training are prohibitive factors for many smaller businesses.
“That’s why our parent company, Close Brothers Group plc, has launched the ‘Close Brothers SME Apprentice Programme’. We have pledged to contribute to the cost of apprentices for 60 SMEs in the engineering and manufacturing sector over a three-year period.
“We’re very proud that Close Brothers has pioneered this programme. We work closely with manufacturing companies across the UK and understand their concerns and frustrations when it comes to securing the human resource needed to propel their businesses forward.
“We hope that this apprenticeship programme will go some way to addressing the issue by allowing participating SMEs to secure the skills they need to futureproof their business.”