Sunday, June 16, 2024


  • New Skills Horizon barometer shows 69% of SMEs in England plan to invest in upskilling workforce
  • While 1.73million* SMEs cite recruitment and skills as a top priority, many are trialling new ways to recruit and retain staff
  • SMEs from regions and sectors across the country reveal challenges and opportunities for the year ahead

A new poll of SMEs across England reveals – while 2023 may be a challenging year – they still expect on average  a 26% growth in revenue. The Skills Horizon barometer, launched by the Skills for Life campaign, asked 1,250 SMEs about their challenges and opportunities when it comes to skills and recruitment in the year ahead, and found many are exploring the best ways to strengthen their workforce to achieve this growth. It reveals 69% are planning to invest in upskilling their workforce, bolstering their capabilities for the year ahead. This rises to 77% in the Technology sector, 75% in Manufacturing and 74% in Healthcare.

The Skills for Life campaign aims to help SMEs understand all the training and employment schemes available to them, including Apprenticeships, T Levels, Skills Bootcamps, HTQs and Multiply numeracy courses. Businesses who are considering hiring employees can access a range of government programmes offering work experience or upskilling existing staff, some of which offer financial incentives. This moment in the campaign follows last week’s National Apprenticeship Week, dedicated to celebrating apprenticeships and the newer introduction of T Levels to highlight their positive impact on communities, businesses, and the wider economy. 

More than 1.73million* SMEs (36%) in England rank staffing challenges – such as recruitment and skills – amongst their top three concerns for 2023. However, more than two in five (43%) plan to invest in building digital skills within their company and a third (35%) will encourage staff to engage in current or free training resources – such as Skills for Life Bootcamps. Many SMEs are hoping this will help them tackle the challenges they face with recruitment and staffing in 2023, as they cite their top three recruitment and staffing concerns as retaining staff (40.8%), not being able to recruit new employees with the right skills (40.3%) and not having enough employees with the right skills (37.8%). More than a quarter (27%) are seeking to hire from broad education routes such as apprentices and T Levels students. This rose to 31% of SMEs in London, 30% of SMEs in the North West and 39% of SMEs in the Finance and Insurance sector.

SMEs also revealed the hires they’re planning to make in 2023 will benefit their business beyond the responsibilities of the role. For instance, 53% of Healthcare SMEs and 44% of Technology SMEs think additional staff will help upskill the existing workforce (by sharing skills and knowledge), 42% of those in Manufacturing say it will improve wider staff productivity and 41% of Construction SMEs say it will improve staff morale.

Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon said: 

“Boosting skills in key sectors like digital, manufacturing and healthcare is essential to building a skills nation and the government is investing in resources and skills qualifications – spending over £3.8bn this Parliament.

“This investment is being recognised by SMEs who are planning to invest in upskilling their workforce this year, and I would encourage businesses of all sizes follow suit.

 “Whether it’s through apprenticeships, T Levels or courses in essential numeracy and literacy skills, there are free and flexible ways for employers to tap into the highly skilled workforce they need to thrive.”

Hollie Whittles, Director of Purple Frog Systems, a data analytics company based in Telford, said: “Attracting and retaining talent is a key priority for us this year. It has been a challenging few months for businesses, but digital transformation is a something many companies turned to us throughout pandemic so we are seeing growth in this sector.

“Looking at different ways to bring new talent to the business to ensure that we’re in the best possible place to tackle the year ahead is crucial. We are working with a local college to help shape their T-Level curriculum to cover emerging technologies such as data analytics. This is perfect for us as we’ll be able to tailor the training to suit our business requirements, and give T-Level students the opportunity to get a foot on the ladder of an exciting and promising career.”

To find training and employment schemes for your business, as well as support on how to implement these, visit:

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