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Employers urged to apply

Support for £10m workforce training fund

Jamie Hepburn

Employers will have access to a £10million pot of public funding to help train their workforce after the Scottish government extended the Flexible Workforce Development Fund.

It follows a successful pilot and is part of a range of support for employers subject to the UK Government’s Apprenticeship Levy, which includes the expansion and diversification of the Modern Apprenticeship programme.

Second year funding available to eligible levy paying employers will increase by £5,000 to £15,000.

Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills Jamie Hepburn (pictured) said: “The Scottish Government has been clear in our opposition to the UK Government’s Apprenticeship Levy.

“To help employers with the impact of this unwelcome UK tax on Scottish levy payers, the fund will continue to support investment in workforce skills and training opportunities.”

It is available to support all employees of all ages and across the private, public and third sectors.

Mr Hepburn said he wanted to encourage all those who are subject to the apprenticeship levy in Scotland to get in touch with colleges to learn more about the opportunities available to them to improve and diversity their skillset and benefit from new training opportunities.

“The Scottish Government will continue to support investment in skills and training to meet the changing needs of employers, the workforce, young people and Scotland’s economy,” he said.

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said the fund helps to increase productivity, fill identified skills gaps, and retrain the workforce.

“Year two will build on the progress made in the pilot year and add some positive developments which will be of benefit to levy-paying employers, including an increase in the cap and greater flexibility with the option to utilise some or all of the fund in their supply chain,” she said.

“The fund is already helping employers and colleges work together to enhance training and continuous professional development for staff and keep pace with new technology and changing markets.”

Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses’ Scotland policy chairman, said: “In one of his first big decisions as Minister for Business, Jamie Hepburn has made a smart move. By opening this fund up to supply chain businesses, we should see more small Scottish firms taking action to upskill their staff.

“FSB made representations about problems with this fund last year, so we’re pleased to see action to fix it. However, there’s still work to be done to build closer links between enterprise and education if we’re to tackle skills shortages and improve levels of in-work training.”

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy at the Scottish Retail Consortium, said his members would welcome extension of the fund but was disappointed that the total pot available had not been increased.

“With the number of retail apprenticeships falling by 15 percent since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, the skills fund has a vital role to play in supporting training and development for the industry. It’s therefore positive to see the scheme will be extended.

“The SRC has consistently called for a higher employer provision cap, and the option to support supply chains, and it’s good to see the Government taking forward our constructive proposals.

“However, whilst this is a step in the right direction, it still is still the case the cap for businesses, especially those with a large workforce, and consequently high Levy bills, is too low, and too restrictive.  Furthermore, it’s disappointing the fund remains merely at £10 million, less than retail alone pays through the Levy.

“With improving skills crucial to driving sustainable productivity growth for retailers, there is still some way to go until this skills fund is truly fit for purpose for the Scottish retail Industry.”

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