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Black Country SMEs encouraged to apply for free skills training

Businesses in the Black Country are being urged to take advantage of free training that is being offered to small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to help upskill staff, raise productivity and boost business growth.

Almost £10 million has been made available for businesses in the region through the Skills Support for the Workforce project, but businesses only have until spring next year to apply.

The scheme, which is funded by the European Social Fund, launched last year to give SMEs the chance for their staff to gain professional training across a range of skills and sectors.

There are three million people of working age living within a 20 mile radius of the Black Country, offering a vast local labour resource and world-class engineering skills. However, employers have also reported challenges, with a high share of the workforce having no or low skills in certain areas, such as IT and technical skills.

Ebrahim Dockrat, External Funding Director of Calderdale College, the prime contractor responsible for delivering for the project, explains: “Based on the region’s specific skills gaps, and continued uncertainty over Brexit affecting business confidence, we have developed a range of flexible and bespoke training plans, designed to help SMEs in the Black Country grow their business.

“Not only can training help increase productivity and the services that businesses can offer, it also motivates and engages the workforce and, as a result, improves employee retention.”

Research has found that employees that undertake non-compulsory, work-related training do their jobs better and are more satisfied with their work. However, a lack of time and potential costs act as a barrier to accessing training. The Skills Support for the Workforce project is designed to tackle these challenges.

Businesses across the country are already benefiting from the training, such as leading civil engineering and groundwork specialist, Hannon Brothers, based in Wolverhampton.

Craig Clark, Construction Manager at Hannon Brothers, said: “We decided to participate in the programme as the construction sector is very competitive and we wanted to ensure we had a highly skilled, adaptable workforce which would increase both productivity and allow us to bid for more work and tenders within the region.

“The initial stages of the process included the completion of a Training Needs Analysis which tailored the programme to suit our needs both currently and in line with our future growth plans.

“The long term effects of this training will be an increased skillset within the team allowing us to bid for more work, to help us to reach our growth ambitions. It will also improve confidence within the team.”

The project is co-financed by the European Union’s European Social Fund and the Education and Skills Funding Agency and is available for SMEs seeking non-compulsory work-based training to support their business growth plan.

“As this training is funded with European money this is the last project of its kind,” explained Mr Dockrat. “This funding is only available until July 2018 and so it’s a case of get it whilst you still can.”

Delivered by Calderdale College – one of the country’s largest provider of European Social Fund funded training - through local providers, the training is for businesses operating in Transport Technologies, including Aerospace and Automotive; Building Technologies and Construction; Advanced Manufacturing, including Engineering, Logistics, Food and Drinks; Environmental Technologies; Business Services; Visitor Economy in Dudley; Food and Food Technology in Sandwell; Health and Social Care in Walsall; and Creative and Cultural Industries in Wolverhampton.

For more information and to see if your business is eligible for fully-funded training please visit

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