Opinion

Staff training is unaffordable for small businesses

6 min read

24 January 2013

Jan Cavelle looks at what it takes to equip your own staff with qualifications, and wonders who could afford to.

There’s an awful lot of noise about the needs for training our workforce. Governments of all parties are fond of jumping on the spinning bandwagon to announce their dedicated investment in same. As yet another email advertising the provision of funding for NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications) dropped into my inbox, and I noted the small print saying “Funding for grade two and above only available for security”, I decided to do a bit of up-to-date research.

There are the NVQs. The more basic, general courses at NVQ level one have lost their impact. Gone are the days when employers were impressed by the self-motivation of someone having attained these, knowing that they are force fed to the long-term unemployed via the job centre. The skills the basic courses deliver are understandably minimal. I’m still going to have to train that employee myself in health and safety as it applies to our work place, and just because it says on a piece of paper they have skills to get on with work mates will not stop me disposing of them should they prove disruptive.

I’m all for NVQs; for certain sectors. Some job skills are very specific. There are only right and wrong ways to re-wire a house, or change a tyre. For more open-ended skills, such as within our sector of cabinet making, the permutations are simply too broad to be contained in a brief course. 

Not surprisingly, I found the following quote applying to my industry on the government web site:

“There are no pre-defined routes of entry into the Furniture, Furnishings and Interiors. Apprenticeship however, work based qualifications such as NVQs / SVQs / AVCEs (Vocational A’Levels) and BTEC Diplomas related to Furniture sector careers are widely available and all provide a good basis for entry to this pathway.”

I looked further at other courses available; all chargeable to the participant and thus beyond many. Any that are serious value a full-time year. Only a small section of information can be covered in part time courses. For an employer with limited space and resources, losing one or more employees for up to half the time to learn information of which only a small amount has relevance to their particular production looks less than an appealing deal.

I have employed several people with degrees in furniture making or furniture design. While I hire them for their passion, I’ve found their knowledge little better than the average man on the street when it comes to making our products, and almost always they have been encouraged to develop their own design flairs. Which, while great in theory, is a dangerous thing when not combined with a serious study of what the market actually wants.

I looked at the apprenticeships; most of the serious cabinet makers ones are also minimum of a year full-time at an apprenticeship’s wage, and understandably so. Truthfully, it’s a skill developed and honed over several years. But many simply do not have the resources to survive on this.

Every entrepreneur knows that there is more to business than qualifications – there is flair, there is experience, there is an understanding of the need to give the customer what they want and the skill of getting the costs right.

Good employees develop the same, skills albeit at different levels. Small firms like mine invest heavily in training in-house because we cannot find those skill sets elsewhere. We know that by training people we are investing in the future both of this country and of our company.

Sadly, there is no recognition for this. There is no government help. The training does not carry paper qualifications that people can transfer elsewhere, so in theory it makes it less valuable. Staff are often viewed as manual or semi-skilled and the career path is made less appealing.

This is terribly wrong. I’m sure my industry field is not the only one this applies to. However, the furnishing and interior design industry is huge in this country. Britain is a leader in this field, and in this day and age that is exciting stuff. We should be championing this – championing the companies who invest in it, championing the people who work within it. The governments are a long way from making real investment in on the job training an affordable reality for either the companies or the people who work in it.

Jan Cavelle is founder of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company.