Helping small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) adapt to new ways of working and improve productivity and growth is the driving force behind the Scottish Government’s Flexible Workforce Development Fund (FWDF).
The second phase of the FWDF was introduced to help businesses bounce back from COVID-19 with funded training, to upskill and cross-skill both employees and volunteers.
The latest round of the second phase of the FWDF includes a £1 million commitment by the Scottish Funding Council to the Open University (OU).
Open to private, public and third sector (charity) organisations with fewer than 250 employees, the FWDF offers funded training up to the value of £5,000 provided by the OU.
Suzanne McQuade, business relationships manager at the OU in Scotland, said they had received more than 560 enquiries and 600 course registrations since the FWDF’s second phase launch earlier this year.
Looking back on the last year, Suzanne explained: “There was really strong uptake from the third sector, social services and business consultancies. There’s clearly a need and a desire in these sectors for lifelong learning.”
Leadership and business courses accounted for 85% of all registrations – “which was not unexpected,” said Suzanne.
“The past 18 months have prompted a lot of small business owners to reflect on how they need to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by COVID-19,” she added.
“Small business owners might be subject matter experts, but they need a solid understanding of business financials and to build business acumen and think long term about things like growth.
“And they want to upskill employees so that they have more diversity of skills in their organisation.”
The OU’s flexible approach to training is attractive to businesses as it enables their employees to learn new skills at a time and place suiting their lifestyles.
KubeNet Ltd has taken advantage of training through the FWDF. Director Fraser Ferguson said: “Flexible learning suits our staff, and the support and resources are excellent, enabling study at anytime, anywhere.”
More than half of SMEs accessing the FWDF have 1-10 employees, while 28% have 11-50. Organisations are not only based across the Central Belt, in and around Edinburgh and Glasgow, but also from more rural and remote locations in the North and South.
Through OU courses, the FWDF addresses Scotland’s national skills priorities: leadership and business, digital and IT, health and social care, and the green economy.
The OU provides a range of short courses, microcredentials and undergraduate and postgraduate modules, with new courses in the pipeline.
A raft of new microcredentials feeding into the four key skills areas are being launched in October 2021, followed by more in March, June and July of 2022.
SMEs need to apply for FWDF funding by the end of July 2022 – with training commencing anytime between now and the end of August 2022. To get started, visit open.ac.uk/business/fwdf