By Matt Willis AAT news How AAT is helping Essex SMEs grow 12 Dec 2013 More than 50 financial services businesses in Essex have taken advantage of a training grant under the Skills for Economic Growth initiative in just over a year. Matt Willis, Programme Manager at Essex County Council, outlines the project and how AAT is helping local businesses thrive. We know that small and medium sized businesses (SME) play a huge part in the economy, and in Essex we are committed to ensuring we help our local businesses prosper and grow, especially in the current economic climate. In September 2012 we launched the ‘Skills for Economic Growth’ training grant. SMEs in Essex are able to access a 70% grant up to a maximum of £2,000 on one advanced level training course. The grants are available in nine specific sectors including financial services. Working in partnership with the National Skills Academy for Financial Services The programme has naturally been attracting a lot of attention. By working with National Skills Academy for Financial Services (NSA), who assist businesses in the sector with recruitment, induction and staff development, we are able to talk businesses through their training options so that we can identify a solution that is right for them. So far, we’ve helped more than 50 financial services businesses through the programme and we have seen a growing number of businesses request AAT training at Levels 3 and 4. A skills shortage in Essex Essex has a skills shortage across numerous industry sectors so we felt it important that we improve skills at the highest levels – boosting business performance at a local level which benefits the overall economy. Elizabeth Lloyd is a Partner at Hubbard Lloyd an independent firm of chartered accountants and tax advisers based in Colchester. The business used the funding to train two employees with the AAT qualification at Level 4. Elizabeth said: “We have a heritage of training staff with AAT; we knew we needed advanced expertise and the AAT qualification at Level 4 includes modules in financial team leadership, complex management accounting tasks, and specialist learning areas which we knew would add instant value to our business proposition. Why funding is so important to Essex SMEs Without the funding we would not have been able to train the two employees at this level. Skills for Economic Growth has meant that we have been able to continue to grow our business and we estimate an increase in new business of £20,000 over the next 12 months as a result of the training. More information on the Skills for Economic Growth project is available on the official website and you can learn more delivering AAT qualifications for your workplace by ordering your free AAT information pack for employers now. Matt Willis is a Programme Manager at Essex County Council.