There’s millions in unspent training funds for furloughed workers

Despite the fact there’s a generous pool of money available for all employees, large and small, to dip into to train and upskill all their staff, even when furloughed, millions of pounds of this cash is going unspent whilst workers’ mental health and self-esteem suffers.

Last year, following the 24-month deadline for training grants to be spent, the Treasury quietly took back £330m of unspent apprenticeship levy money – which, contrary to popular belief, can be used by businesses to train all members of staff, whatever their age, level and time with the company. 

At the height of the pandemic, in May 2020, well over 8m workers were furloughed, with a reported increase to 9m + people on leave of absence by mid-November. The second wave has seen the COVID job retention scheme (CJRS) extended through to at least April 2021, giving millions of employers the opportunity to retain their teams – and even retrain or upskill them through the generous, yet under-publicised, training grants available to them. 

It’s widely known that furloughed staff cannot perform tasks or activities that make money for their employer or provide a service for their employer. However, many employees and employers are unaware that whilst on a leave of absence, on the CJRS staff can undertake training to enhance their skills and knowledge, whilst maintaining their motivation and ensuring they feel valued in the process. Furthermore, for SMEs and smaller businesses, the government will pick up the majority of the tab. 

Jon O’Boyle, Director of Operations at Eden Training Services explains: “There is definitely a lack of awareness amongst employers that government money is available for staff training and upskilling, but it’s improving. Since March, a quarter of the learners we have trained have been on furlough, however, there is scope for many, many more. 

“This is still an area that needs to be publicised much more by the government, particularly to ‘smaller’ businesses. 97% of companies in the UK have a wage bill of less than £3m, which means that if a member of their staff completes a training course that costs £6,000, they only have to contribute £300 towards it.”

“Furthermore, larger, £3m+ wage paying businesses can play the local hero and transfer 25% of their own training budget to smaller companies in their area or industry, meaning these companies don’t wouldn’t need to contribute a penny.” 

Depending on the size of the scale of a business, employers can secure funding between £3,000 for a Level 2 qualification to £27,000 for a L7 master’s degree for each employee, which can all be secured and achieved during furlough. 

Popular training courses include management sector training, such as Operations Departmental Manager, Digital Marketer, Finance and Human Resources, however, employees can complete courses on topics such as public speaking, leading by example, innovation and creative thinking, cross departmental working or effective succession planning. 

The benefits of training to business and individuals goes well beyond the basic upskilling, with proven mental health advantages that improve self-esteem, confidence, anxiety and depression. Furlough has added extra strain on employee mental health, with many citing a fear of the unknown, job insecurity and isolation. 

Cheryl Iontton, Head of Learning & Development at leading, Cheshire-based LegalTech firm, ME Group Holdings, comments on the significant benefits of staff training during furlough: “Team members who learn in a furlough situation have the benefit of a dedicated space to really focus on their studies without the added pressure of their day jobs. When achieving qualifications that link with their roles whilst on leave of absence, they can put their new qualifications into practice and experience the benefits and satisfaction of their learning when they are back in the workplace. 

“I feel the government could do more to make businesses and staff aware that they can learn during furlough. It is included in the terms and conditions, but not really highlighted – which is a shame due to the clear benefits. During this lockdown, our business is working hard to ensure our furloughed staff know that they can achieve qualifications during this time. After all, it’s a great opportunity for them to stay motivated and accelerate their learning.”

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