The UK’s leading small business support organisation, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), is reminding firms across the region a European fund that can be used to cover 100% of staff training costs, in some instances up to Level 4, will soon stop accepting applications.

The ‘Skills Support for the Workforce’ project is funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) and overseen through the Skills Funding Agency (SFA). The aim of the project is to upskill the workforce and fund free training and support to help small firms – those employing fewer than 250 – by improving skills in areas to ensure the best possible business growth.

The funding can be used to pay for any type of workplace skills, from digital marketing to basic computer skills, but can also be used in key priority sectors including advanced manufacturing, health and social care, creative and digital industries, and education.

However, the FSB has warned small firms time is fast running out if they want to access the cash. FSB Regional Chairman in Manchester and North Cheshire, Richard Gregg, said:

“We would urge firms who have not yet taken advantage of this funding pot to do so quickly before the money is withdrawn on March 31.

Up-skilling your workforce at absolutely no cost whatsoever to your business is a no brainer. This money can be used for virtually any training purpose, from one man band businesses up to those with 249 staff, but anecdotal evidence suggests many small business owners are unaware of what they are entitled to.”

The FSB said small businesses interested in getting their staff in to such a scheme should contact any local training provider for advice. Trafford based Training Brokers, which earlier this year received the Best Practice Award from the region’s lead provider, The Manchester College, also urged SMEs to act sooner rather than later.

Giles Rigby, the company’s Business Development Manager, said:

“There aren’t many businesses who couldn’t gain something from training their staff, be it for something simple such as learning how to use a particular software programme, to something more practical such as customer service skills or accounts training. This is win-win.

“Lifelong learning is a great way to ensure staff are being used effectively, and remain fully up-skilled in a business environment where skills sets are continually changing. What’s more, this is free, so there’s really no reason not to get in touch to find out if they can benefit.”