Skills funding misses 25% of workforce – the self-employed and those working for small businesses

Freelancers, the self-employed and small business owners – nearly four million people – have been left out of the government’s skills agenda, business groups have warned.

The small business watchdog, SFEDI, has said that initiatives like Train to Gain, where skills brokers visit small businesses to determine training needs, do not work in reality for businesses with fewer than five people, as brokers tend to visit companies with larger numbers.

The watchdog also criticised government funding that sees the self-employed and small businesses only receive £50m of the £550m annual spend on Train to Gain, Learn Direct  and Sector Skills Councils, although they make up 25% of the workforce.

Tony Robinson, founder of SFEDI, told Personnel Today: “Leitch hasn’t addressed small and home business owners. They’re missed out of top-level policy. Everybody should have the right to the skills to start up or run their own business, especially as we appear to be moving towards the US model, where everyone ends up working for themselves.

“Train to Gain skills brokers will not visit small businesses, neither will those businesses with less than five people be able to go to their nearest college to train. NVQs, as well, are not relevant for many of these businesses.”

The Institute for Employment Studies called on the government to make sure Train to Gain reaches people it wouldn’t otherwise reach, including workless households, carers, and those with disabilities or low skills.

Jim Hillage, research director at the institute, told Personnel Today: “The government needs to make sure the Train to Gain reaches ‘harder to reach’ people and employers. The really hard work is getting out onto industrial estates, knocking on doors, offering ideas, and learning and development products. The really important thing is to get to those employers, rather than going to employers that would have already trained anyway.”

Hillage warned that while the current TV ad campaign to drive up interest in learning may go some way towards raising awareness of skills issues, but “you wont just get employers to change their attitude overnight”, he said.

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