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Economy Minister Diane Dodds today announced that a skills development support scheme will remain free for businesses until the end of March 2022.

Skills Focus is a post-employment training programme that is open to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), including social enterprises, with fewer than 250 employees.

Last May the Minister announced that the usual 25% cost to businesses would be waived until 31 March 2021. She has now extended that waiver for a further 12 months to further support businesses through the pandemic.

Speaking about the step, the Minister said: “Skills Focus enables businesses to upskill and reskill staff, including those on furlough, by accessing tailored teaching from the further education colleges.

“Since May last year SMEs, including social enterprises, have been able to access this support at no cost to themselves. More than 1,000 businesses and 1,800 staff members have done so – and I am pleased to be able to extend this measure through to the end of March next year.

“Courses are available in accredited and industry-standard qualifications at level 2 and above. Training can be delivered online and covers a range of areas, including customer service, health and social care, leadership and tourism.

“I am keen that small businesses have the opportunity to upskill their staff in readiness for the recovery and I would encourage them to engage with their local college to see what courses are available that might be relevant to them.”

More information on Skills Focus and how employers can access the programme is available at: https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/business-support/skills-focus-programme