The skills shortage has made headline news recently and SMEs feel very strongly about it. Many believe the answer is apprenticeships.

When asked if apprenticeships were the way to plug the UK’s skills gap, the great majority of business owners (82%) said ‘yes’. More than three quarters (76%) agree that apprenticeships are a viable alternative to university.

There is no lack of willingness or enthusiasm amongst firms to take on apprentices. Close to half (49%) of business owners answered yes to the question ‘if assistance was available either from the government or the private sector, would you participate in an apprenticeship scheme?’.

Of course not every business needs an apprentice, but for many (more than a fifth) it’s simply not an affordable option without government support. We realise the importance of offering support to SMEs and run The Close Brothers SME Apprentice Programme.

In September 2017 we launched a pioneering Transport SME Apprentice Programme in conjunction with the Road Haulage Association to recruit and train drivers to help deal with the acute shortage of drivers in the haulage industry. The first 20 apprentices started training in the New Year, and under the scheme, we fund half of the new recruits’ wages during the first year and a quarter in the second, meaning participating SMEs won’t have to bear the full cost of employing the apprentices until they are making a positive contribution to their business.

The third phase of the Manufacturing SME Apprentice Programme has also started, taking the number of apprentices we fund to 60 (same funding rules, as above).

Learn more about the Close Brothers apprenticeship programme here.