How can SMEs identify their skills gaps… and fill them?

Despite Tees Valley being home to more than 17,000 businesses generating a £13.1bn economy, the area’s business base has been described as under-developed compared to the size of the population. By 2024 there will be 17,000 new jobs and 116,000 replacement jobs available, and it’s important that there is a skilled and available workforce to fill these roles.

York, North Yorkshire and East Riding also generates a strong £24bn economy with 48,000 businesses, but across all sectors, 15% of firms report having a skills gap. With an expected 33,000 new jobs available by 2031, the area also needs to invest in boosting the skills of its workers.

One way to tackle these challenges is by utilising free training that can help SMEs identify their skills gaps and fill them.

The Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW) programme has been developed to upskill employees in SMEs and micro-businesses over the next two years and is co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) – an EU established fund to help local areas stimulate economic development through skills and job creation.

Sue Dawson, Programmes and Relationship Manager overseeing the Skills Support for the Workforce programme in Tees Valley and York, North Yorkshire and East Riding, gives her advice on how SMEs can approach their skills gap problems:

“Although there are numerous courses available, and businesses are often encouraged to take advantage of everything they can, it’s important to tailor training towards businesses goals and skill gaps. You should firstly step back and analyse the problem before acting.

“Ask yourself: is the problem occurring because your employees don’t have the relevant skills to perform their role properly and to the best of their abilities? If your employees have never been taught the skills to do the job, you might want to consider formal training.

“Once you have identified that you don’t have the skills within the company that you need for your business to flourish, it’s time to understand which skills you need the most.

“When this is decided, don’t just jump in and provide training you think staff need. The best way to identify the current skills and knowledge each employee has, and what they need to perform the job successfully, is through a Training Needs Analysis (TNA).

“Our Skills Support for the Workforce programme, through a network of providers across Tees Valley and York, North Yorkshire and East Riding, undertake the TNAs through discussions with the employer.

“Our expert teams will carry out a TNA which will measure the skills needed against the employee’s level of existing knowledge. This will give you an idea of what training would be required to get them to where you want them to be.

“Not only will this help them perform in their current role, but it might also put them in a position to progress and support your company to grow.

“Once the TNA is completed, you should have a list of the skills you need and the skills your employees already have. The difference between the two is your skills gap.

“The next step is to list the skills your workforce is lacking and what training is necessary to address the gaps. Every business is unique, and you should then ask yourself some of the below questions:

  • Is training required for different groups or teams?
  • Have you got the capacity to promote employees who have shown leadership or exceptional skills?
  • How many people have critical skills? Can their skills be used to train others?
  • What skills are needed for the future and what can you do to plan and prepare for this?

“It’s now time to close the skills gaps by making an action plan, prioritising the most critical gaps that need to be addressed first and giving dates for when any training should be completed.

“There is a host of different ways to address the training and close these gaps, and it doesn’t have to be costly! Contact us and ask about the SSW programme – where you can take advantage of free training for SMEs.

“By upskilling employees and consequently improving business performance of our SMEs, we will better prepare ourselves for the future and help to deliver economic prosperity in both Tees Valley and York, North Yorkshire and East Riding.”

For more information and to see if your business is eligible for fully-funded training in the YNYER area, please visit or for the Tees Valley area:


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