Vodafone Business unveils apprenticeship fund


More than half (51%) of UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have axed plans to take on apprentices because of the cost-of-living crisis, according to new research unveiled by Vodafone Business.

Vodafone Business polled over 1,000 SME business leaders across the UK and found, of the 60% of firms who have taken on apprentices in the past, a worrying 51% had axed their schemes because of soaring business costs, including energy and transport.

The findings have been announced as Vodafone Business launches a partnership with Multiverse, using funds from Vodafone’s Apprenticeship Levy to upskill UK SME employees.

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Vodafone Business will provide small businesses with £18,000 each to upskill existing employees through a pilot partnership with Multiverse. The scheme will see Vodafone offering SMEs the opportunity to apply for a fully-funded place on Multiverse’s Business Transformation Fellowship where UK employees will receive training and accreditation alongside their current roles.

The UK government introduced the apprenticeship levy in 2017. Organisations with a salary bill in excess of £3 million must put 0.5% of their total wage costs into the apprenticeship levy. This is used to fund apprenticeships, or equivalent work-based learning programmes, across critical disciplines, such as cloud, cybersecurity, data DevOps, digital marketing, software development, and more.

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More work is required to educate SMEs on the options available to them regarding apprenticeship opportunities; as 44% of SMEs were unaware of the various financial support packages available to them from third-party schemes, with the Government and larger businesses helping to pick up the tab to enable small businesses to bring on new staff or provide training opportunities to upskill their workforce. This could help fill other roles within the business with better-trained and more motivated staff.

Better awareness of these schemes could help address some of the challenges, Vodafone Business research has identified, as 21% of SMEs said this level of support would help sway them into taking on an apprentice for their business.

Nick Gliddon, Vodafone’s UK Business Director, said: “Our research shows just how much support is required from both big businesses and Government to ensure that SMEs can take on apprentices or offer up-skilling programmes to existing staff.

“With SMEs making up 99.9% of all businesses, they are crucial to our economy and have an important role to play in providing the UK workforce with viable training and skills.

“SMEs are often forgotten when discussions about apprenticeships take place, and barriers, like costs and time, make it harder for them.

“At Vodafone Business our focus is to make life easier for businesses, so we have launched a new scheme in partnership with Multiverse for SMEs to fund their digital skills programmes. This will help people of all ages and backgrounds have the opportunity to learn and develop new skills.”

Jeremy Duggan, President of Multiverse, said: “Ensuring the right digital skills are in place is essential for any business, and apprenticeship schemes are simply the best way to deliver these through applied, on-the-job learning.

“As SMEs reckon with market forces, Vodafone’s donation will enable small businesses to invest in their people, develop to their full potential and unlock growth, through the creation of these apprenticeship programmes.”