Nine in 10 of the UK’s SMEs believe apprenticeships are at least partly the solution to the UK’s skills gap crisis, with a further 68% of the view apprenticeships are a ‘valuable alternative to university’.

Nearly half (47%) feel not enough is being done to encourage young people to consider apprenticeships.

The findings in this release are taken from the latest independent research commissioned by Close Brothers Asset Finance and Leasing, and are in support of National Apprenticeship Week (NAW), which highlights the positive impact that apprenticeships make to individuals, businesses and the wider economy.

The survey, by Censuswide, was conducted in January 2024 and canvassed the opinion of 907 SME owners across the UK and Ireland and across several industries.

According to Government figures, 1.72 million employees in the UK workforce were judged by employers to have a skills gap (i.e. considered by the employer to be lacking full proficiency), an increase of 45,000 when compared to 2017. Overall, 15% of employers reported skills gaps, up from 13% in 2017.

A third of responding firms report having an apprenticeship scheme of their own, with many (58%) stating that if financial assistance was available from either the government or the private sector to help contribute towards wages and/or training, they would put someone from their company forward to participate in an apprenticeship scheme.

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By GlobalData

The National Apprenticeship Service states that 96% of employers with apprentices have experienced at least one benefit from taking on apprentices, and most can count at least eight benefits. In addition, 74% of employers say that apprentices improved products or service quality, and 78% say that they improved productivity while 73% say that staff morale is improved by having apprentices.

Steve Gee, CEO of Close Brothers’ Asset Finance’s Industrial Equipment Division, said: “As a funder of a number of sectors that rely on apprentices, we’ve long seen the need – and value – of apprenticeship schemes, which encourage new talent into industries that really need them.

“As part of our commitment to the SME community, we’ve been funding an apprenticeship scheme since 2015, in partnership with the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). Under the scheme, we contribute strongly towards the wages of the apprentices in both the first and second, with all training costs also covered.

“The reality is, it’s not cheap for an SME to invest in apprentices – and it’s important small business owners see it as an investment and not a cost. Handled correctly, apprenticeships can help an SME flourish and at the same time develop the individual apprentice.

“I believe we all have a duty to look at where, as ‘UK PLC’, we need to concentrate our efforts and money. I would strongly encourage firms to support apprentices – we know first-hand what a hugely positive impact they can have.”

Nikki Jones, director of the University of Sheffield AMRC Training Centre, said: “At the AMRC Training Centre, we’re transforming lives through apprenticeships. We combine classroom learning and shop floor industrial experience to equip new, young talent with all the skills they need to become the advanced engineers of tomorrow. 

“It is crucial to invest in apprenticeships and support employers to take on apprentices to help close the huge skills gap in the industry currently. We’re proud of our relationship with Close Brothers and acknowledge their constant support in delivering apprenticeships throughout the years, helping apprentices kick-start their careers.”