“Companies in industry must use UK training providers or risk losing them.” That was the warning Gary Baker, Furniture and Interiors Education, Skills and Training Alliance (FIESTA) chairman, issued to delegates at the Closing the Gap conference last month.
The event, which took place on 26th April at Furniture Makers’ Hall, London, was organised to inform companies of the looming employment crisis the furniture and interiors industry faces if the emerging skills gap is not addressed.
Gary opened the conference by reminding delegates of the circumstances that led to FIESTA’s formation in 2017, following the Bridging the Gap conference.
Statistics from the 2015 Mind the Gap report, which was conducted by the Furniture Industry Research Association and funded by The Furniture Makers’ Company, showed that of those companies surveyed at the time over 50% of their workforce was over the age of 40. Furthermore, half of the employers questioned said they did not need apprentices or did not know where to find them.
Four years on from the release of the report, and the hope that the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in May 2017 would support businesses to recruit and train new talent has dissipated due to the complexity and rigidity of accessing and using funding.
The Department of Education’s monthly apprenticeship statistics update in March revealed that apprenticeship starts for January were down -21% on the same month in 2017 before the levy was introduced. Meanwhile, new research from the British Furniture Confederation has revealed that 79% of employers in the furniture industry are concerned that their ability to recruit adequately skilled staff will not improve over the next three years.
Gary says: “The message to industry is ‘can you afford not to train your staff?’ Research clearly shows that companies that offer training programmes are much more profitable than those that don't. There is also a very real danger that if large businesses don’t wake up and start using training providers then these institutions will disappear. Funding from Government is being reduced and unless people are enrolled on courses, training institutions won’t get the volume needed to run. If we don’t do something drastic now, we’ll come up against major problems in the future.”
One of the aims of the Closing the Gap conference was to demonstrate the value of apprenticeships, which was discussed during a panel session with employers, training providers and an apprentice, analysing the myths and challenges. One belief raised during the panel was that apprenticeships do not add value to businesses. Panellist Barry Moss, London and South East regional apprenticeship manager for Travis Perkins, responded that the organisation has seen an average return on investment of £38,000 per apprentice employed.
However, for many SMEs, the issue with training has stemmed from an inability to access funding due to Government cuts and companies being turned away.
To support SMEs and large businesses, FIESTA has launched a new service, Furniture and Interiors Skills Plus, which aims to enable furniture and interiors businesses of all sizes to easily train and recruit employees for all job functions.
Formed through a partnership between FIESTA and the Apprenticeship Management Group, Skills Plus offers businesses a specialist apprentice recruitment service, Apprentice Training Agency (ATA) and Levy Management Company. As Skills Plus is a levy payer, micro and SME non-levy paying employers can access a much wider selection of funded skills training, while large employers can outsource the apprenticeship management to obtain best value for money and real-time monitoring from their apprentice levy digital accounts.
John Henry, director at the Apprenticeship Management Group, and Martin James, commercial director at training provider Didac, presented the new service at the conference.
Gary adds:“Researching training providers that have funding for your training needs and understanding how to access funding all takes time. The Skills Plus solution will handle all of this and offer SMEs advice, guidance and access to the best training – from traditional apprenticeships to vocational courses – for new and existing staff, at very little cost to your business.”
John Henry, director at the Apprenticeship Management Group, adds: “Skills Plus will enable employers in the sector to fill their skills gaps and look to establish training and progression plans both now and well into the future. Young people entering the furniture and interiors sector and existing employees wishing to up-skill are looking for learning opportunities and career progression, which is precisely what Skills Plus will help them achieve. I am confident that they will be delighted at the outcomes the Skills Plus team will achieve on their behalf.”
A second Closing the Gap conference for businesses in the north of England will take place on 2nd July at Panaz’s showroom in Burnley – follow the link to book a free place.
A 60 minute film of FIESTA chairman Gary Baker’s presentation and the panel discussion is available to view here.