DSIT launches SME training fund

Small and mid-sized businesses can now apply for up to £10,000 to cover training costs as part of the government’s £6.4m upskill fund.

The UK Government’s Flexible AI Upskilling Fund supports SMEs in the professional and business services (PBS) sector. SMEs have until 31 May for grant funding to deliver training before March 2025.

The funding is being introduced alongside a new framework developed by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), Innovate UK and The Alan Turing Institute. This aims to identify the skills and knowledge employees in SME businesses might need to use AI in the workplace and make the most of emerging technologies.

These new initiatives are being positioned by the government as a way to grow the economy by encouraging small and medium businesses to embrace the technologies of the future.

The fund aims to help SMEs in sectors law, design and human resources train their workforce to use artificial intelligence (AI) to boost productivity and efficiency. The government said that AI offers SMEs across the country a way to improve productivity and drive down costs, and allows them to focus more time on identifying new areas of growth, which can potentially deliver new and improved services for consumers.

Application areas include accountants using generative AI tools such as ChatGPT to draft documents, and develop new software which could help to tackle fraud. Legal professionals could also use AI to analyse lengthy documents such as contracts to provide concise summaries, freeing up time to focus on other critical areas.

According to John Bates, author of Thingalytics, AI offers an opportunity to create documents with built-in intelligence. This, he said, gives businesses the ability to manage enormous amounts of content. “Knowledge workers will be able to interrogate video, audio, and any form of business content through natural conversation,” he said.

The fund is expected to support around 2,000 SMEs across the country and is applicable to businesses employing under 250 staff. Through the scheme, successful applicants are reimbursed for up to 50% of the cost of investment in AI skills training.

The government hopes the funding will future-proof these businesses and incentivise investment in AI skills to ensure they retain a competitive edge through increased productivity and reduced costs, as they begin to integrate AI into their operations – building a pool of technological talent alongside supporting employee growth and development.

Technology secretary Michelle Donelan said: “Businesses of all sizes and across all sectors, from architecture to law and HR to advertising, are identifying the huge benefits that AI can bring in helping staff to boost their productivity while cutting business costs.

“I have launched this new pilot to help SMEs interested in AI adoption make it a reality by contributing towards the cost of upskilling their employees – ultimately increasing efficiency so companies can retain a competitive edge in an increasingly digital world.”


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