How can skills training create new opportunities for SMEs across the region as we come out of lockdown?21 April 2021
Sue Dawson, Programmes and Relationship Manager at Calderdale College, oversees the Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW) programme and explains why businesses should invest in their staff’s skills right now.
Nationally, almost one quarter of all businesses temporarily closed or paused trading due to the pandemic in April 2020. This caused the economy in York, North Yorkshire and East Riding to drop by 7.6%, with the Tees Valley region’s GDP also falling by up to £2bn. The recent national lockdown forced many businesses to temporarily close again, causing further economic uncertainty. This emphasised the need to upskill workforces to make sure that we’re prepared for the future, especially as we are now facing a phased return out of lockdown.
Sue Dawson, Programmes and Relationship Manager at Calderdale College, oversees the Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW) programme in the York, North Yorkshire, East Riding and Tees Valley regions. She explains why it’s so important for businesses to invest in their staff’s skills right now, and how SSW can help.
“I work with small and medium businesses across the region and have heard first-hand about the difficulties that they have faced during the pandemic. From manufacturing companies having to work around social distancing restrictions, to restaurants needing to introduce alternative revenue streams such as dine-at-home options, Covid-19 created challenges for businesses across all sectors. Alongside this, business owners have struggled to keep staff morale high, as the pandemic has had a negative impact on many people’s mental health.
“It has been a particularly worrying time for businesses who have just started out, or who may not have had the finances available to support them long-term. Taking advantage of skills training can help, as it gives these businesses the opportunity to access support at a time when they might be unsure on the steps to take to help rebuild and recover their business. By exploring the different options available to them with expert training providers, they can feel more confident in the decisions they take.
“Business owners have a lot on their plates right now, so training might not be high on their agendas, but there really is no better time to consider how they can make your business more resilient and prepared.
“What’s more, there is plenty of support to take advantage of, including our Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW) programme, which is available to small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to upskill their staff and is free through funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Education and Skills Funding Agency.
“But why is skills training so important? Due to the lockdown, many businesses were unable to operate as they usually would and were unsure of how they could adapt to these changes or unlock additional revenue streams. That’s why the training offered by SSW has been designed to help employers understand how to diversify and expand their services to combat the economic impact of the pandemic, so that they can become more resilient in the future.
“As well as struggling with temporary closures, we saw many businesses go through restructuring, with staff at risk of redundancy. In May 2020, it was estimated that up to 15,000 of the currently furloughed workers in the Tees Valley were expected to be made redundant by the end of 2020. Similarly, in York, North Yorkshire and East Riding, approximately 25% of employers made redundancies, with a further 20% expecting to do so in the future. By upskilling staff, employers might be able to avoid redundancies: teaching employees new skills means that they will be able to support the business in more ways, avoiding the risk of their roles becoming redundant.
“A benefit of skills training that I feel most passionate about, especially given the pandemic, is the boost it brings to staff in terms of their confidence, motivation and general happiness. One business who has seen first-hand the impact that training can have on staff morale is The Terrace, a pub based in central York.
“Landlord, Paul Gardner, enrolled his staff onto a range of courses from our SSW programme that gave them a better understanding of the legalities of a public house and their work environment, some of which were taken when the pub was closed during the first lockdown in April. Since the training, Paul has noticed that his team are not only more confident in their roles, but in themselves, and are enjoying the work even more.
“Being able to take training when the pub itself was closed also had a positive impact on his staff’s mental health. Talking about his experience, Paul said: “Not feeling like you have a sense of purpose can have a detrimental effect on people’s mental health, but using this period to invest in our staff’s skills through training really helped keep morale high. Despite not being able to serve the general public, our team were still able to feel as though they were progressing. Thanks to the training, we have created a multi-skilled, high-performing workforce and we have a contingency plan in place for future challenges.”
“I repeatedly hear “I don’t have the time to train”, or “skills training is too expensive”. SSW has been designed with these challenges in mind: training is flexed around businesses’ operating hours and rotas, meaning that owners don’t have to worry about losing revenue by pausing their operations, and it’s completely free. We’ve even adapted our courses so that some can be taken online, if staff are shielding or prefer to continue working from home.
“Though many employers will be feeling anxious about what the future holds, skills training offers them an opportunity to take control of their future, invest in their employees and put their best foot forward as we begin to come out of lockdown.”
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