Skip to main content

Close Brothers SME Apprentice Programme

The Close Brothers SME Apprentice Programme is part of our long established commitment to supporting small and medium sized enterprises.

With the support of the University of Sheffield AMRC Training Centre, the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA), Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the manufacturers organisation EEF, since 2015 Close Brothers has successfully helped SMEs across the UK recruit and train a new generation of apprentices.

At Close Brothers we believe that the SME sector is the lifeblood of the UK economy and also firmly backs the role of apprentices in helping SMEs grow. Apprenticeship schemes can help SMEs, particularly those in engineering and manufacturing, to bridge a looming skills gap that threatens their success and the health of the wider UK economy. Engineering UK has warned that the UK does not have either the current capacity or the rate of growth needed to meet the forecast demand for skilled engineers by 2022.

Close Brothers has been a long-term supporter of SMEs, doubling its lending to the sector since 2009, and the creation of this now long-standing and innovative apprenticeship scheme demonstrates that commitment.

Overview of the programmes we have supported to date


    In September 2015, we launched the first phase of the Close Brothers SME Apprentice Programme. Under the scheme, we helped pay for 20 apprentices to learn their skills at the AMRC Training Centre and funded half of the new recruits’ wages during the first year and a quarter in the second, meaning participating SMEs didn't have to bear the full cost of employing the apprentices until they made a positive contribution to their business. 

    The objective was to recruit a further 20 apprentices in year two and 20 more in year three, meaning Close Brothers would be supporting up to 60 apprentices in the scheme at full capacity in what was a banking first.

    About the AMRC Training Centre

    The University of Sheffield’s pioneering 5,500 sq m apprenticeship training centre has been established to provide the next generation of world leading engineers.

    The Centre is currently training 410 first and second year apprentices and is the joint headquarters of the new National College for Advanced Manufacturing. It has links with both Sheffield universities, enabling apprentices to go on to study for higher-level qualifications up to doctorate and MBA level, and offers a range of courses for continuing professional development.

    In 2014 it won the Times Higher Education Outreach Award by creating a blueprint for bridging the manufacturing skills gap and promoting social mobility at the same time.

    “We are really grateful to Close Brothers for creating this golden opportunity for smaller firms to put fears of the costs and the administrative burden of employing an apprentice to one side.

    In addition to getting a high-quality vocational education, shop floor skills and access to employment, apprentices at the AMRC Training Centre can also be taking the first step on a road that could lead to undergraduate and post graduate qualifications that could make them company leaders in the future.”

    Alison Bettac
    AMRC Training Centre, Director of Training

    About the Manufacturing Technologies Association

    The Manufacturing Technologies Association is a trade association for companies working in the engineering-based manufacturing sector. Many of its members are involved in the construction and supply of manufacturing technology whilst others deploy these technologies or are involved in providing services to the industry.

    “Companies need highly skilled workforces to enable them to get the most out of the latest technology they need to deploy to stay ahead. This initiative offers smaller firms the chance to be at the forefront of securing those skills for their futures. They, no less than larger companies, need to increase side-by-side investments in technology and skills to be globally competitive and meet customer demands for versatility. This scheme will help them do just that.”

    James Selka



    Following on from the success of the first phase of the apprentice programme, we launched a second phase this time in partnership with manufacturers’ organisation EEF (now known as Make UK) and the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA) in 2016.

    With the skills gap weighing heavily on the UK manufacturing sector, this scheme helped SMEs to tackle the issues of cost and red tape so they could take on an apprentice and invest in a new generation of skilled workers.

    Through its partnership with EEF and MTA, we selected twenty manufacturing SMEs in the Birmingham area that needed support in hiring a local apprentice to help answer their business needs. We recruited and paid for twenty apprentices – one for each SME. The programme funded half of the apprentices’ wages in the first year and a quarter in the second, helping to alleviate cost concerns.

    The apprentices trained at the EEF’s state-of-the-art technology training centre in Aston, near Birmingham, which is at the forefront of new manufacturing and engineering technologies. Here they learnt both traditional and the most cutting-edge techniques that fully equipped them for a sustainable, long lasting and exciting career in modern industry.

    The technology training centre was officially opened in April 2014, by local MP Khalid Mahmood. Later it unveiled further investment of £2 million into providing nine additional new training sections containing £700,000 of high-tech equipment. A further £5 million investment went into the centre in 2016, which is to expand into a second site and increase the number of apprentices it trains from 250 to over 400 a year.

    This second phase of the Close Brothers SME Apprenticeship Programme built on the success of the first, which helped twenty SMEs in Sheffield to recruit an apprentice. These apprentices were trained at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield. 


    For the third phase of the SME Apprentice Programme, we established a new partnership with the Road Haulage Association (RHA). 

    For this phase of the programme, we aimed to help SMEs recruit and train the next generation of Large Goods Vehicle Drivers. Under the scheme, Close Brpthers paid for 20 apprentices to learn their skills and funded half of the new recruits’ wages during the first six months and a quarter in the second, helping to alleviate cost concerns.

    John Fawcett, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance Transport division, said:
    “We know from our work with transport SMEs that many would like to take on apprentices but they are worried about the cost, time, and resource involved. Britain’s transport companies urgently need to recruit and train a new generation of skilled drivers if they are to grow in an increasingly competitive market. We believe this pioneering scheme will provide genuine financial support to the SME sector.”

    Richard Burnett, RHA Chief Executive said:
    “Right now the road transport sector has a massive 45,000 driver shortage and in today’s economic climate, many smaller operators simply cannot afford to take on apprentice drivers. This new initiative will go a long way to providing 20 companies with the funding they need to give them and the industry they service a real boost.”


    For the third phase of this now established programme, Close Brothers once again partnered with the AMRC Training Centre to help pay for 20 apprentices to learn their skills at the AMRC Training Centre in Rotherham - part of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) Group – to help smaller businesses in the region secure the skills they need for future growth.

    Close Brothers will contribute 50 per cent of the wages of the apprentices in the first year and 25 per cent in the second year, and cover all training costs. Further support will be offered for those on degree apprenticeships.


    Nikki Jones, the AMRC Training Centre Director, is thrilled the programme is to continue.

    She said: “The support Close Brothers has given has transformed the lives of many apprentices already and its continued support is invaluable to young people and small businesses in the region.

    “The scheme is designed in such a way so as to support those individuals and companies who need it most but also contribute towards the training centre’s ongoing commitment to encourage more females into the industry and boost higher level skills development through degree apprenticeships.

    “All of this is underpinned by the support needed for our smaller businesses in the region which are the lifeblood of our economy. The recruitment of ambitious and fully-trained apprentices that can hit the ground running is definitely the right way to go - not only to address the glaring skills shortage threatening the UK engineering and manufacturing industries but to create a diverse and dynamic workforce brimming with fresh talent and new ideas.”

    Adrian Sainsbury, Chief Executive of Close Brothers, said apprenticeships are an excellent way for UK SMEs to fill skills gaps, develop their future workforce and improve long-term growth prospects.

    He said: “For the last three years we have supported SMEs around the country to invest in apprentices and we are delighted to be able to continue our work with AMRC to sponsor a further 20 apprentices this year.

    “We know from experience that SMEs often need assistance to take on apprentices, so we designed our programme to help with the specific issues they face. We believe the scheme has made a real difference to the business results of participating SMEs and we look forward to continuing this important initiative in partnership with the AMRC.”

    The scheme has already resulted in some fantastic apprentice success stories. One of those was our sponsored apprentice and Foxwood Diesel heavy duty engine builder, Leigh Worsdale. She was the first female Apprentice of the Year at the AMRC Training Centre’s 2017 ceremony and as part of her prize spent time in America with Boeing. She has become a figurehead for engineering apprenticeships in the region.

    Ken Worsdale, Managing Director of Foxwood Diesel, said the scheme helped relieve some of the financial pressure of training Leigh as a new apprentice.

    He said: “Running a small business is never easy and finding the right people that fit into the business can be challenging. That’s why we train our own staff and engineers. We found that we needed a higher calibre engineer as engine technologies have advanced so we chose the AMRC for our training needs.

    “We applied for the Close Brothers scheme and were very pleased to be accepted as this took some of the financial pressure off us, and allowed us to further help Leigh in her apprenticeship by giving her more time to study and attend courses and events.

    “Leigh has gained so much confidence and has now become an ambassador for apprentices and women in engineering and is also a great asset for Foxwood Diesel.”

    Robert Ellis, managing director of Multiplex Engineering in Chesterfield, praised the scheme and urged other SMEs to consider applying for a place. He said: “Multiplex has actively supported apprenticeship programmes over the last 30 years and we are very impressed with the refreshing approach that the AMRC Training Centre has taken with the training that our must recent apprentice – Dan Gillam – has received.

    “The structure of the training enables the student to progress at an accelerated rate and make a worthwhile contribution to the company’s operation from day one. Dan’s performance is not only appreciated by our customers but by our own workforce too.

    “Dan was our first candidate on the Close Brothers SME Apprentice Programme and this year we have been fortunate to secure two more places. I would strongly recommend this training to any prospective employer.”

    James Selka, CEO of the Manufacturing Technologies Association, said it is a fantastic project to be involved with and the MTA always champions the next generation of engineers.  He added: “The AMRC Training Centre provides world-class education and Close Brothers have helped alleviate the financial constraints associated with training - particularly for the SME community. It is excellent news that the apprenticeship programme will be able to impact on even more young people’s lives, changing perceptions of the industry and closing the skills gap in the process.”