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Futures programme set to strengthen SME skills

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Scott Waddington, Wales Commissioner to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, looks at the benefits small businesses are set to receive after a series of innovative projects were given the green light.

Earlier in October,  UKCES announced the go-ahead for its latest phase of the UK Futures Programme which will see eight ‘anchor institutions’ across the UK pilot a new scheme to strengthen leadership skills within small businesses and increase overall productivity.

For Wales, this means a government contribution of up to £200,000 to support the Regional Learning Partnerships (RLP) in south west and mid-Wales to create a structure that will engage small businesses and signpost them to a variety of support services. The RLP is part of a wider network of regional consortia – or Regional Skills Partnerships – announced by the Welsh Government aimed at developing skills that respond to the needs of local communities.  The projects themselves have been designed to meet a diverse set of training needs including the development of entrepreneurial and leadership skills with a view to improving overall productivity.

It is well known that there is a significant productivity gap between Wales and the UK average and that a shortfall in the necessary skills is a key contributor to that gap.

Experts predict that, without intervention, this economic disparity could widen in the years ahead. This makes it more urgent than ever that we address the skills issue and, in a targeted way, ensure that we cultivate the sort of competencies that will support priority growth sectors, including among others renewable energy, advanced manufacturing, business services, creative industries, tourism, construction and ICT.

UKCES’s latest initiative couldn’t have come at a better time: a series of major infrastructure investments announced recently are set to accelerate job creation and further increase demand for higher-level skills.

Through the UK Futures Programme, Welsh SMEs will have access to a range of management development opportunities, from mentoring programmes to online leadership training – all elements that will help them grow in line with the nation’s economy and create a skilled workforce.

The aim is that the programme will form a pilot group of small employers to test new ways of reaching small businesses and creating a system of best practice which can be rolled out across the country. In particular, the model will identify new ways to help smaller enterprises which haven’t previously had any leadership or entrepreneurial training.

It’s vital that Welsh SMEs utilise this opportunity and make the most of the new networks that will be created through the programme. Small businesses are the lifeblood of the Welsh economy and if they are supported and can grow in line with the overall economy. Moreover, it will encourage even more businesses to invest in Wales and ultimately close that stubborn productivity gap.

Questions for Scott Waddington? Comments on the UK Futures Programme? Leave a comment below.

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