For Yorkshire Heart, a rapidly-growing, family-run vineyard and brewery based in the village of Nun Monkton in North Yorkshire, there never seemed to be enough spare time or money to invest in training its employees.
The vineyard was first launched in 2006, but the business has continued to evolve dramatically ever since. A micro-brewery, producing craft ales, was added in 2011 followed by a significant expansion of the vineyard in 2014. This year the team will harvest the first apples from a newly-planted cider orchard. With such major developments taking place and only a small team of employees, owners Chris and Gillian Spakouskas found that training kept slipping to the bottom of their list of priorities.
Business Development Manager Karen Metcalfe explained: “We always seemed to be too busy to find time for training and there was also the cost, yet we had skills gaps in all sorts of areas, from IT to social media.
The issues faced by Yorkshire Heart are common to countless small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are often deterred from investing in training due to the costs involved or difficulties finding enough time. The Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW) project offers fully-funded training courses to help SMEs overcome these barriers. Co-financed through the European Union’s European Social Fund and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the project is open to businesses seeking non-compulsory, work-based training to support their business growth plan.
As well as helping SMEs to plug any skills gaps they may have, training can boost the productivity of a business and fuel its future growth. Research shows that employees who complete certified training are more satisfied in their jobs and work more effectively. This, in turn, helps businesses to retain their employees.
The Skills Support for the Workforce project has enabled Yorkshire Heart to focus on identifying and plugging the skills gaps among its employees. By doing so, Chris and Gillian have not only given their staff greater confidence in their own abilities, but also boosted the productivity of the entire team because staff now have the skills they need to carry out certain tasks independently.
Karen explained: “We were delighted when the funding became available as it meant that we could use the time to get motivated and push ourselves to train our teams, helping us all to progress further!
“We found the Excel IT training really useful as staff can now do their own Excel spreadsheets and don’t need help. The social media and marketing training was also really helpful too as it means that we can promote our business and engage with customers which will allow us to continue to grow the company."
“Two members of staff have also since progressed onto Level 4 Bookkeeping, so it has really shown us that the training has made, and continues to make, a difference.”
Working with an advisor from the project, Yorkshire Heart was able develop and put in place a training plan. Care was taken to ensure that, as well as being hugely beneficial to the small but busy team, the plan was manageable and didn’t have an adverse impact on their ability to meet the day-to-day demands of the business.
Karen added: “It has helped develop our team hugely, building their confidence. The new skills and also the catch-up training can be used across the whole business for years to come.”
Accessing the funding has altered the way that Yorkshire Heart views training, ensuring that it has been pushed much further up the list of priorities for the future.
Karen said: “Our team will continue to grow and we’ll be more focused on training and developing new team members as and when the time comes. Now that we’ve experienced the benefits, we will look at pushing ourselves to higher levels all round.
“Our advisors could not have been more supportive and helpful to us – it was just what we needed to keep us motivated with training!”
Ebrahim Dockrat, External Funding Director of Calderdale College, the main contractor for Skills Support for the Workforce, highlighted the benefits of the project: “We offer a range of flexible, bespoke training plans designed to help your business grow. By training your staff, you can improve your ability to adapt to a rapidly changing business environment, nurture a leadership team for the future and make you an employer of choice for emerging talent.
“As this training is funded with European money, this is the last project of its kind. This funding is only available until March 2019, so it’s a case of get it whilst you still can.”
For more information on the Skills Support for the Workforce project and to see if your business is eligible for fully-funded training, click here.