Micro businesses need more help with training

The UK’s smallest businesses are losing out on government-backed training schemes and should have a dedicated skills body that more effectively represents their needs.

That is the view of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) following a new training provision survey.

The FSB said that firms with fewer than five employees, while making up an important part of the economy, are being excluded from government-run training schemes and are struggling to take advantage of the Train to Gain programme.

As a result, the FSB wants to see the creation of a Small Business Sector Skills Council that will give special priority to the smallest employers.

In the survey, the FSB found that many small firms are not aware subsidised training is on offer, while the majority of sole traders wrongly believe they do not qualify for training.

Although £350 million of skills funding has been made available for small businesses this year, some 88 per cent of respondents to the FSB survey said they had not taken up an offer of training through Train to Gain.

A lack of flexibility in the scheme was cited as a major problem by 78 per cent who wanted greater focus on issues specific to the smallest firms. These areas included leadership and management training for businesses with fewer than five employees, as well as specialised technical and business skills.

There was also interest in IT, health and safety, responding to tenders, and sales and marketing.

Barely one in five (18 per cent) of respondents even understood that training is, in fact, available in the smaller ‘bite-sized’ chunks that are so vital to micro firms.

Colin Willman, the FSB’s education and skills chairman, said: “The government must start to recognise the needs of the country’s smallest businesses, especially during this crucial time when firms need to be investing in skills and training so that they can emerge stronger as they pull the economy out of recession.”

Mr Willman welcomed the extra funding for SMEs and the increasingly customised nature of training schemes.

But he added that much of the government’s training offer goes over the heads of those hardest-to-reach small firms because the training that is available is inappropriate and is still not sufficiently flexible.

Mr Willman concluded: “A small business with only two employees needs to be able to train its staff in a way that doesn’t force them to be out of the office for days on end – especially during a recession when the business needs to be functioning on all cylinders. What we really need is dedicated training for the smallest firms in the form of a new Small Business Sector Skills Council.”