At TechSPARK, September is officially Talent Month. In partnership with our friends at Huboo Technologies, the award-winning order fulfilment service for eCommerce sellers, we’ll be bringing you features and events on all things tech talent & skills in the South West. 

Around half a million pounds has been pledged to help people across the West of England develop new skills through apprenticeships. Now the Metro Mayor is urging more firms here to ‘keep it local’, by adding to the shared funding pot with their unused apprenticeship levy funds.

To date, some £485,000 has been pledged to the ‘Share to Support’ scheme. The money comes from apprentice-levy paying employers passing on their unused levy funds so that more apprenticeships can be created for local people.

Metro Mayor Dan Norris says, “This fund means cash raised locally stays local. It will be put to excellent use here in the West of England, helping equip people across our region with the skills they need.

“This is a good start. Let’s keep it local. Money for West of England apprenticeship training should stay in our region to help people develop new skills, not disappear back up the M4 to central government.

“Together we can boost the number of apprenticeship opportunities for people across our region, and help firms strengthen their workforce.”

Nationally, it is estimated that between £4m and £8m of unused levy funds are returned to the Treasury each year.

The West of England Combined Authority and Western Training Provider Network (WTPN) launched Share to Support in the spring, as part of the Workforce for the Future Programme, to help smaller businesses recover through funding new apprenticeships. Several large employers have already pledged to the Share to Support fund, including GKN Aerospace, Bath & North East Somerset Council, Bristol City Council and Southern Co-op.

One of the latest employers to join the scheme is Southern Co-op – a regional, independent co-operative which has pledged £50,000 to the fund to support small businesses to engage with skills apprenticeships.

Sarah Kavanagh, Business Transformation & HR Director at Southern Co-op, says, “There is a wealth of talent and enthusiasm across the region which we need to nurture and support. One way of doing this is through apprenticeships and the Share to Support scheme enables everyone to benefit from the apprenticeship levy regardless of the size of your employer.

“Our own apprenticeship programme has helped colleagues of all ages and in all areas of the business to develop to their full potential. It has led to colleagues being more successful in their roles as well as being promoted to new positions. We hope our pledge to the Share to Support apprenticeship levy scheme will see these accomplishments replicated in smaller business across the region.”

With over 700 apprenticeships now available, small businesses across the West of England are already using the scheme to both grow and upskill their teams through apprenticeships.

The Bristol Drugs Project recently received funding from the Southern Co-op through the Share to Support scheme to recruit six apprentices into their team. Every year the charity supports more than 3,000 adults and young people who are experiencing problems with alcohol or drug use.

Maggie Telfer, Chief Executive of the Bristol Drugs Project, adds, “We are really delighted to be able to employ six trainee drug & alcohol workers who have lived experience of drug or alcohol treatment. We have purposefully recruited people who face major challenges in finding employment – including no working experience, an absence of qualifications, or a criminal justice footprint which means that many employers would simply not consider them as potential recruits.

“This is our seventh year of offering these opportunities but our first venture through the apprenticeship route and accessing funding support through the Share to Support scheme. We have navigated this new route with the expert support of Weston College and we anticipate that this will be just the first of many ventures with them.”

The Share to Support scheme is open to small businesses, based in the West of England and also supports businesses looking to progress their trainees or kickstarts onto an apprenticeship. The apprenticeship fund is being delivered as part of the West of England Combined Authority’s  Workforce for the Future Programme –  an £8m programme co-funded by the European Social Fund that will work with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to help them develop their future workforce, meeting their current and future needs.

Employers can pledge their unspent apprenticeship levy or find out how to get support with apprenticeships by visiting this page. If you are interested in finding out more, the Western Training Provider Network and Business West are running an event on the 30th September on how your business can benefit from apprenticeship levy sharing. Sign up here.