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'Half of SMEs hesitant to take on apprentices'

AROUND half of Scotland's small and medium sized enterprises seem reluctant to take on apprentices with many concerned about the potential costs and time involved, research shows.

In a survey of SMEs for Close Brothers 47% of respondents in Scotland seemed sceptical about the benefits of taking on apprentices.

A quarter of those who expressed doubts about taking on an apprentice said they were put off by fears it would be expensive. The same proportion of sceptics were concerned they would not be able to devote the time needed to training.

With at least 47% of respondents in all parts of the UK unconvinced about the benefits of taking on apprentices, the research may alarm champions of such training schemes.

Mike Randall, chief executive of Close Brothers Asset Finance, said: "There are understandable reasons why some businesses are hesitant to invest their time and money into training an apprentice, as the benefits of apprenticeship schemes are not widely documented."

The Federation of Small Businesses Scottish policy convenor, Andy Willox, said: "If we're looking to encourage more small businesses to get involved in the apprenticeship system, we need to ensure the system works for organisations which, for example, don't have dedicated human resources departments and may have very different skills requirements in comparison to their larger equivalents."

But he noted the FSB's study suggested that apprenticeships offer an affordable solution to skills gaps.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it was encouraging more employers, including large and small firms, to offer training under its modern apprenticeship programme.

"We delivered a record 25,961 modern apprenticeship starts last year, and are committed to delivering at least 25,000 more in every year of this parliament - a target we are well on our way to achieving," said the spokesman. "Ultimately, these apprenticeships are good for business, young people and the economy."

Mr Randall said apprenticeships can reduce the time and expense of recruiting, while helping businesses increase their productivity.

Close Brothers found 59% of respondents in Scotland had had difficulty recruiting employees.

Some 50% of SMEs in Scotland said they offered apprenticeships.

The Federation of Small Businesses said differences between how the public sector supports apprenticeships makes it hard to draw comparisons between Scotland and other parts of the UK.

Close Brothers had responses from more than 700 SMEs across the UK.

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