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Since the beginning of the pandemic, businesses in the UK have endured great upheaval and the need to make quick and frequent changes to optimise finances, people and operations. Now, as this difficult year comes to an endit’s time to reflect on the skills gaps in our workforce to better prepare ourselves for prolonged survival and recovery in 2021.  

Apprenticeships are available to help our workforce develop practical and employable knowledge and equip Mancunians with future-proof skills and experience. Skills for Growth – SME Support Apprenticeship Specialist, Suzanne McNicholas says, “we need innovators, decision-makers and experimentalists to help us through this difficult period of change and upheaval, but without the right skills and experience to work with, we won’t see those brilliant ideas come to life.” 

Let’s examine the most prominent skills gaps in Greater Manchester and how apprenticeships make filling them more accessible 

The above chart outlines the skills gaps identified by the Growth Company earlier in 2020, in the lead up to the launch of Skills for Growth – SME Support. Technical skills were identified as the most prominent skills gap across all sectors of SMEs in Greater Manchester, indicating that our workforce lacks the practical and fundamental tools relating to mechanics, IT, mathematics and science. Bright ideas are built on technical skills, the tools that give life to our imaginings and allow us to understand how things work and what it will take to turn concepts into reality.  

Sales and marketing skills are equally as important, helping businesses, products, services and ideas to grow. Market competition is high, with almost 23,000 individual enterprises operating in Greater Manchester alone, and now that businesses are unable to rely on foot-traffic and word of mouth alone to attract customers, it is important to have a workforce equipped with outbound sales and marketing skills to help reach new and existing customers online. 

Our third most prominent skills gap, and perhaps that which will be most integral to surviving crisis and economic downfall, is that of leadership and management. We need decisive, informed and open-minded management with a focus on retaining existing jobs and creating new opportunities where possible. When change is afoot, strong leadership is integral to both survival and growth.   


Where do apprenticeships fit in the equation? 

When it comes to furthering our education, we often feel that we are faced with the impossible conundrum of trying to balance work and study, sometimes even having to sacrifice work to complete our educationWhile we must never underestimate the power of traditional study paths, it is important to acknowledge that there is an alternate route that might suit adult learners better, but which we don’t necessarily realise is available to us, and that is apprenticeships. Let’s compare the benefits of apprenticeships for individuals and business owners in the table below. 


Benefits for businesses 


Benefits for individuals 

Apply for 100% funding via levy matchmaking system 

Earn real living wages while learning 

Government grants available for new starts 


Eligible for professional body membership 

Upskill current workforce or open opportunities to new talent 

No student loan fees 

Adapt training according to the needs of your business 

Learning available from entry level to higher degree level 

Nurture a developing, experienced and expanding workforce from entry level to senior management 

Gain valuable, employable workplace experience in conjunction with your studies 


Suzanne McNicholas says “apprenticeships offer a fantastic experience in the working world; hands-on training gives the individual an opportunity to put their skills into practice and gives them confidence in the workplace. Ranging from level two training through to master’s level equivalents, apprentices will follow an approved study programme, gaining them a nationally recognised qualification on completion of their apprenticeship, along with highly employable experience in their chosen career.” 

McNicholas has helped numerous businesses and individuals take advantage of apprenticeships though the Skills for Growth – SME Support programme, but in particular, David Haskayne from Excel Contracting Limited says “our company operates as Bluebird Aerial, carrying out aerial surveying and 3D modelling services for the construction industry. We were unaware of the resources available to small businesses until Suzanne at the Growth Company helped us arrange a degree apprenticeship for our drone pilot. This will not only benefit the apprentice but will ultimately broaden the range of services we offer and raise the company profile within the industry. I would recommend their services to any business that is looking to invest in their employees but does not have the resources of larger organisations. 


All industry sectors, businesses of different sizes and functions can benefit from acknowledging and investing in filling skills gaps in the workforce, and Greater Manchester as a community will flourish in the post-COVID recovery period and beyond if we come out equipped with future-ready skills, the willingness and ability to embrace new technology, and a workforce inspired and ready to take on any challenge. It’s in our blood to be innovative and bold, in our nature to stand together as a strong and flourishing community, and it is written in our stars that Greater Manchester burst forth as a powerhouse in the north, a city to rival any global business hub; but it all begins with the skills for the future  

To find out more, visit or contact 


The Growth Company is an award-winning, not-for-profit social enterprise with a mission to enable growth, create jobs and improve lives. We provide individuals and businesses with a wide range of services that improve employment, skills, investment and enterprise for the benefit of all, and have been working in the Greater Manchester city region for more than 30 years. 

This project receives funding from the European Social Fund as part of the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme in England.  

The Department for Work and Pensions is the Managing Authority for the England European Social Fund programme.  

Established by the European Union, the European Social Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support skills development, employment and job creation, social inclusion and local community regenerations. For more information visit 

About the author

Suzanne McNicholas

As Apprenticeship Specialist for Skills for Growth - SME Support, Suzanne McNicholas works with a wide variety of businesses and individuals, helping them to better understand apprenticeships as a whole, and to find the right training and providers to suit every individual's needs.