Press Release | 09 Feb 2023

SME apprenticeships under threat due to cost-of-living burdens – causing more than half of UK SMEs to cancel apprenticeship opportunities

Vodafone Business launches apprenticeship fund to provide small businesses with £18,000 each to upskill their employees.

  • More than half (51%) of UK SMEs have cancelled plans to take on an apprentice due to cost-of-living burdens.
  • 44% were unaware of financial support schemes that cover apprenticeship costs, with half saying that would change their decision.
  • Findings come as Vodafone Business unveils a new partnership with Multiverse, providing SMEs with an £18,000 apprenticeship funded by Vodafone.

More than half (51%) of UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have axed plans to take on apprentices because of the cost-of-living crisis, according to new research unveiled by Vodafone Business.

Vodafone Business polled over 1,000 SME business leaders across the UK and found, of the 60% of firms who have taken on apprentices in the past, a worrying 51% had axed their schemes because of soaring business costs, including energy and transport.

The findings have been announced as Vodafone Business launches a partnership with Multiverse, using funds from Vodafone’s Apprenticeship Levy to upskill UK SME employees.

Vodafone Business will provide small businesses with £18,000 each to upskill existing employees through a pilot partnership with Multiverse. The scheme will see Vodafone offering SMEs the opportunity to apply for a fully-funded place on Multiverse’s Business Transformation Fellowship where UK employees will receive training and accreditation alongside their current roles.

The UK government introduced the apprenticeship levy in 2017. Organisations with a salary bill in excess of £3 million must put 0.5% of their total wage costs into the apprenticeship levy. This is used to fund apprenticeships, or equivalent work-based learning programmes, across critical disciplines, such as cloud, cybersecurity, data DevOps, digital marketing, software development, and more.

Cost of living crisis: What small businesses are worried about

From customer spending to working from home, small businesses told us about the trends and topics that they’re keeping an eye on in these uncertain times.

More work is required to educate SMEs on the options available to them regarding apprenticeship opportunities; as 44% of SMEs were unaware of the various financial support packages available to them from third-party schemes, with the Government and larger businesses helping to pick up the tab to enable small businesses to bring on new staff or provide training opportunities to upskill their workforce. This could help fill other roles within the business with better-trained and more motivated staff.

Better awareness of these schemes could help address some of the challenges, Vodafone Business research has identified, as 21% of SMEs said this level of support would help sway them into taking on an apprentice for their business.

Additional findings in the report found:

  • 20% of SMEs suggested they didn’t know how to go about hiring an apprentice, while 21% suggested that they simply couldn’t afford one.
  • 48% of those cited higher business running costs due to the cost-of-living crisis as the main barrier, 30% blamed the increased energy bills for heating, lighting and running equipment and 21% said increased staff wages are the reason.

Nick Gliddon, Vodafone’s UK Business Director, said: “Our research shows just how much support is required from both big businesses and Government to ensure that SMEs can take on apprentices or offer up-skilling programmes to existing staff.

“With SMEs making up 99.9% of all businesses, they are crucial to our economy and have an important role to play in providing the UK workforce with viable training and skills.

“SMEs are often forgotten when discussions about apprenticeships take place, and barriers, like costs and time, make it harder for them.

“At Vodafone Business our focus is to make life easier for businesses, so we have launched a new scheme in partnership with Multiverse for SMEs to fund their digital skills programmes. This will help people of all ages and backgrounds have the opportunity to learn and develop new skills.”

Jeremy Duggan, President of Multiverse, said: “Ensuring the right digital skills are in place is essential for any business, and apprenticeship schemes are simply the best way to deliver these through applied, on-the-job learning.

“As SMEs reckon with market forces, Vodafone’s donation will enable small businesses to invest in their people, develop to their full potential and unlock growth, through the creation of these apprenticeship programmes.”

Find out more about this programme and apply for your business before 14 February 2023.

Stay up-to-date with the latest news and features from Vodafone by following us on Twitter and signing up for News Centre website notifications.


Notes to editors

  1. An online survey of 1,096 small business owners in the UK was conducted by independent market research agency WALR. The research fieldwork took place between 28 and 30 January 2023. WALR is a member organisation of the Market Research Society and abides by all codes of practice.
  2. An online survey of 506 people who have left school in the last 12 months in the UK was conducted by independent market research agency WALR. The research fieldwork took place between 28 and 30 January 2023. WALR is a member organisation of the Market Research Society and abides by all codes of practice.

About Multiverse
Multiverse is a start-up tech company building an outstanding alternative to university and corporate training through apprenticeships. The company announced the closing of a $220 million Series D funding round earlier this year and now trains over 10,000 tech, leadership and digital apprentices.

About Vodafone UK

Vodafone UK is a technology communications company that connects people, businesses and devices to help our customers benefit from digital innovation. Our services span mobile, fixed-line connections, home and office broadband, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

We have a strong track record as a tech pioneer, making the UK’s first mobile phone call, sending the first text message, and making the UK’s first live holographic call using 5G in 2018. We were the first to start carrying live 5G traffic from a site in Salford, Greater Manchester and now have 5G in locations across Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain as well as the UK. Meanwhile, our 4G network coverage currently reaches over 99% of the UK population.

Today, Vodafone serves more than 18 million mobile and fixed-line customers in the UK. Vodafone is the largest provider of full fibre in the UK – our superfast broadband services are now available to nearly 12 million homes across the UK.

Sustainability is also at the heart of what we do: as of 1 July 2021, 100% of the grid electricity we use in the UK is certified to be from renewable sources.

For more information about Vodafone UK, please visit:

Vodafone UK Media Relations

Telephone: +44 (0) 1635 693 693


Twitter: @VodafoneUKNews


Vodafone Limited

Registered Office: Vodafone House, The Connection, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2FN

Registered in England No: 1471587