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3 key takeaways: SMEs and the future of apprenticeships
Last week, the second show in our #FutureOfApprenticeships live series, in partnership with FE News, took place, focusing on the topics of SMEs.
Titled “Unlocking SMEs and helping them to thrive”, episode two featured a fantastic panel of speakers including:
- Gavin O’Meara, Founder and CEO of FE News
- Suzanne Slater, Director of Operations for Apprenticeships at NCFE
- Anthony Impey, Chief Exec of Be the Business
- Anna Ambrose, Director of the London Progression Collaboration (LPC).
Here, we recap three of the key takeaways that we gained from the discussion.
1. We need to make navigating apprenticeships easier
The apprenticeship system is complex; from frameworks to standards, end-point assessment to off-the-job tracking, from mandatory vs non-mandatory qualifications to the difference in funds for large vs small employers, it's certainly not a straightforward path. Says Suzanne: “All of these things can be an absolute minefield – but specifically for an SME.”
Anthony then explained how this is due to small businesses lacking the resources of their larger peers, such as an HR or a Learning and Development department, alongside the fact that SME leaders do not have the headspace to work out how to get the best out of the system with everything that they must manage on a day-to-day basis.
A complex skills system is indeed needed to support the complexities of our economy, our key industries and the small businesses within them. However, “the challenge is we need to make the navigation of that system much, much easier,” remarks Anthony.
2. It remains a tough time for SMEs
We’re all aware of how difficult times are at present. After sharing that many of the small business leaders he’s spoken to have voiced their worry, he explains how: “We’ve come through a couple of tough years because of the pandemic, and we’re into a whole new set of conditions that are arguably going to be tougher on small businesses than the months that we had under lockdown.”
This, he says, is due to the scale of support from the Government being less and the ways in which the nature of skills shortages and supply chain disruptions are impacting business in different ways.
The solution has to be making the skills system work better for small businesses as, arguably, getting the right skills into small businesses through the utilisation of apprenticeships will help them to get through these tough and uncertain times.
3. Intermediary organisations have a key role to play
Anna explained how her organisation, the London Progression Collaboration, are working with the Gatsby Foundation to undertake research which has led to some key findings regarding intermediary organisations and the critical part that they can play.
In almost all comparisons to international apprenticeship systems which are seen as exemplars, such as the German system, there is a role for intermediary support. However, when looking closer to home, “the support isn’t out there in a uniformed way and it isn’t anybody’s job to provide that at present”, says Anna.
The solution, and the fine line that we must balance, is maintaining the high quality of our apprenticeship system whilst ensuring that there is support out there for businesses to engage and navigate it successfully.
Want to hear more from our panel as they explore further topics relating to apprenticeships and SMEs? Watch the full episode below:
Be sure to join us for our third episode on apprenticeships and the cost of living crisis at 10am on Thursday 3 November by tuning in on the FE News website or YouTube channel. You can also join in the discussion using #FutureOfApprenticeships on social media.