A new programme of free skills support is now available to SMEs in the North East. Caroline Williamson is one of the North East Ambition team providing one-to-one advice to businesses which need support with upskilling their team, plugging skills gaps, or planning future recruitment.
Tell us a bit about your role and your involvement in North East Ambition
I’m one of the North East Ambition Skills Facilitators and our role is to work with SMEs and help them navigate the skills landscape – what the skills gaps in their business are, what courses and training are available, and how to access them. There are a variety of government incentivised skills and employment programmes such as the Kickstart scheme, traineeships, and apprenticeships, and it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming for businesses to understand what is available to them. This is where we come in – we do the groundwork, so they can concentrate on the day-to-day running of their business.
What kinds of businesses do you typically work with?
We work with businesses in the North East Local Enterprise Partnership region that fall into the category of an SME – a small or medium sized organisation which has fewer than 250 employees. The North East Ambition programme is part of the North East Strategic Economic Plan to ensure that demand for skills and the quality of jobs continue to improve, so the programme has a focus on the four areas in the North East economy identified as having a strong opportunity for growth: digital, advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, and energy. Businesses in any sector can take part in the programme though, and recently we’ve seen an influx of hospitality and retail businesses, as places start to open up again after lockdown, and business owners think about their plans for the future.
In your experience, do many businesses have a skills plan in place?
Not many! Most businesses have skills and training needs, but lots of them haven’t had the time to put a plan in place. The last year has been such a busy time, and there are so many training options out there, it’s understandable that people can sometimes struggle to do this. We can do all the legwork for them and go back with details of what we’ve found. We’re completely impartial, so we can offer expert advice and help people select the most suitable training for their team.
What kinds of things would be included in a skills plan?
It depends on the business and their needs, but we will usually put together an employee skills support plan outlining the organisation’s skills needs in order of priority, and how these needs can be met – for example, through a higher level apprenticeship for existing staff members, or management skills training for a particular team. We’ll agree on the plan together and then I will go away and find the training providers and course details, right down to what days of the week courses run. We can also make introductions to the chosen training providers, so businesses are all set to put their plans into action.
Why should businesses be thinking about this?
It’s about futureproofing – your business might be running smoothly now, but in six or 12 months will you need someone with additional skills? And can you put something in place – like a new apprenticeship role, for example – to plug that skills gap now?
In the last year there’s been so much change in terms of how we work, and putting a skills plan in place is an opportunity to talk to someone impartial and reflect on plans for the future. There is support out there, and it’s free, so why not take advantage of it?
Find out more about North East Ambition, or make an appointment for an initial consultation, here.