The challenges faced by SME's

The challenges faced by SME's

As Managing Director of Wakefield-based Group Rhodes, and Board member at the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), I am all too aware of the challenges small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) face in recruiting and developing their employees.

Skills investment in business is something I have always felt strongly about, and part of the reason I wanted to join the LEP. We need to understand the needs of businesses and work with them if we are to produce a skilled workforce which will ensure the Leeds City Region fulfils its immense growth potential.

Central to our ambition of growing the Leeds City Region economy is developing a flexible and strong skills base. Our region has the largest workforce in the North of England and it is important that we work with SMEs to understand the challenges they face in training their employees, as well as potential gaps in the future skills market.

Earlier this month saw the start of a significant new opportunity for businesses within Leeds City Region; the launch of the LEP’s skills service. The skills service is something I have been involved with since the early stages, so I was delighted when the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently announced £17.5m for the Leeds City Region to put in place responsive, employer-led skills support.  

The Chancellor spoke of the importance of "backing business and supporting the industries of the future" and the LEP skills service is designed to do just that. The aim of the funding is to put money in the hands of small and medium-sized businesses in the City Region’s key growth sectors, enabling them to source the skills solutions they require to develop and grow.  This announcement follows the allocation of an overall £1 billion-plus Growth Deal for the Leeds City Region to invest in skills, business support, resource efficiency, housing, regeneration and transport.

This huge opportunity for businesses to develop the skills they need to grow is available throughout Leeds City Region, which covers Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield and York. The skills service will help employers identify their skills needs based on their business growth objectives, and then find the right training solution. Whether it is developing the skills of the workforce, providing tailored training or designing a new course, SMEs will be supported through the process. Additionally, if businesses have a budget to put towards training, they could be eligible for funding of between £500 and £50,000.

The new LEP skills service complements existing skills support for businesses, including the LEP’s apprenticeship programme. Apprentices are a critical part of Group Rhodes’ strategy to develop and retain our workforce and 10% of our current employees are apprentices – a very high number for a SME. The vast majority of our apprentices stay with the company after they complete their training, which more than repays our investment in their development. One of our apprentices won the 2013 Manufacturing Technologies Association Apprentice of the Year and is about to complete his degree at Sheffield Hallam University. I am encouraged that support from the LEP is helping more local people get onto the career ladder.

As the Board member overseeing the new LEP skills service, I am committed to ensuring that the service is employer driven and links seamlessly with other support to help businesses grow and thrive. To succeed, we need to work in partnership with businesses, ensuring we collectively invest in the workforce of the future, positioning the Leeds City Region as a place where everyone who works and does business can prosper.

For more information on the LEP skills service, email skills@the-lep.com or call 0113 386 1861.

The LEP skills service is delivered by a consortium on behalf of the LEP, which is made up of Calderdale College, Leeds City College, West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce and Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry on behalf of the West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges. It has been partly supported by HM Government with Employer Ownership funding.