Henry Ford is accredited for many famous quotes, the most famous being “If you want a Model T Ford you can have it any colour, as long as it is black”. Well, it can be argued that this sentiment is still alive and kicking in Wales today and is being used by most providers who are promoting subsidised training services. Unfortunately, it seems these providers are not as explicit as Henry, inveigling unsuspected SME business owners to engage with training on the basis that any business can get support for any training or development requirement. If only this were the case.
Landsker has spoken to many training providers throughout Wales to ascertain what training they can provide for SME’s, be it for soft or hard skills. In short, the answer is that providers will support what they want to offer, what is already on their shelves. For example, if an SMR wants help with Health and Safety, First Aid, Manual Handling, ILM level 3 or some such other common need, then these can be subsidised and delivered by up to 70%, dependant on the size of the business. However, if a business wants something more specialist to reflect their particular needs, then our view is that it is unlikely to be supported.
This view has been based on Landsker’s own staff training and development needs. The success of our business is largely dependent on the interpersonal, experiential and technical abilities of our staff. The vast majority of Landsker personnel are graduates, have masters’ degrees and/or have technical qualifications in accountancy, HR and marketing. As part of our annual business planning process we assessed what new skills were needed and who should, and wanted to, be developed. Seven of our staff were receptive to discretionary training at advanced levels including studying an MBA, CIPD, CIMA and Level 7 Coaching and Marketing. As a result, we went through an administrative process to fill out forms for a programme called Gwlad, whose website states “subsidised, bespoke training designed to motivate and inspire staff to achieve more for your business”. However, we found that the “computer said no” to all but one of our requests, on the basis that what we wanted was not eligible for support – i.e. it was not on their shelf or was not a black Model. This is something I do not understand.
On the one hand Welsh Government is pumping millions into supporting existing and new SME’s to become more prosperous and “world class” via its Business Wales level 1-5 services, as well as sector specific support such as Farming Connect and the Wales Cooperative Centre for Social Businesses. In order to have prosperous and world class businesses, it is essential to have world class staff. Yet, the current training mechanisms do not generally give SME’s what they need or want; the last programme that helped SME’s with their particular training needs was the Workforce Development programme which ceased approx. 18 months ago. Its replacement, with emphasis on delivery from the FE sector, is in my opinion inadequate and not fit for purpose provision.
It is ironic that all the millions of pounds and euros sloshing around for training has successfully developed its own industry, largely centred on FE and HE project employees selling their own black Model T’s. In an improving economy, SME’s are more receptive to training and development and will commit to significant investment in staff, both in terms of time and money. However, to get businesses to engage, providers must give them something that they want and need, rather than disguising some old chassis that has just had a new paint job!