Micro-businesses fall through the training gap

The FSB says the smallest firms are seeing no benefit from Government training initiatives.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Hardly any small firms are taking advantage of Government training schemes like Train to Gain, according to the Federation of Small Businesses – because the initiatives are not flexible enough. Despite a £350m injection of funds for the 'hardest to reach’ firms, a measly 12% of micro-businesses (i.e. those with fewer than five staff) have taken advantage of Train to Gain. And the vast majority argue that this is because the offering isn’t sufficiently targeted for their needs. The FSB thinks a specialist Small Business Sector Skills Council is the answer – but do we really need another quango?

The FSB has been surveying its Skills Panel about uptake for the Train to Gain scheme – and the results won’t make happy reading for the Government. Although it’s been trying to widen the scheme’s reach with this extra £350m, businesses with fewer than five employees still don’t qualify for its leadership and management programme. And its courses tend to present practical difficulties: after all, if you have three staff members, it is rather impractical to have a third of your team off for seven straight days.

And the FSB’s respondents don’t just want more flexibility. They also want more courses specific to the needs of micro-businesses - for instance around IT, health and safety, responding to tenders or even sales and marketing. Training budgets often get cut during turbulent economic times – but these companies clearly recognise that giving their staff some extra skills will probably give them a better chance of riding out the storm.

To be fair to the Government, it has been trying to make some of these initiatives available to smaller businesses: for instance, it’s now possible to do Train to Gain in smaller ‘bite-sized’ chunks, rather than in a single block. The problem is, not many people know about this – just 18% of respondents to the FSB’s survey were aware of this option, while a significant number believed they weren’t eligible at all. So if nothing else, the Government clearly needs to work harder at getting its message across.

Then again, there’s always a chance that Train to Gain won’t survive the impending public spending cull. The FSB suggests that since there are already 25 Sector Skills Councils, an extra one for small businesses isn’t too much to ask. But they might all be under threat once the axe starts to fall...

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