On-site training is ideal for small firms, says Gordon Harris, boss of Advanced Roofing in Derbyshire
On-site training has been great for us. We employ 27 people in total. Eight are office-based, the rest are on site. We're a small company – turnover this year is about £2.9m. We work nationally for main contractors, all over the country. We needed to get our workers trained because the Major Contractors Group now has the CSCS card rules so everyone needs to get their NVQ2. Although some of our guys already had the card, a lot of the younger guys didn't.

It's hard to find the right training providers — we're not a massive sector in terms of labour numbers and there aren't many training providers who specialise in our work. We don't have much access to day-release college facilities, so in the past lots of smaller companies like us have suffered. I'm applying to be an NVQ assessor now, so that I can help to deliver. The whole industry is short of NVQ assessors and we need more people starting to take on that responsibility.

We managed to find one place that wanted £1500 per person per NVQ2. I had 17 people to put through – a company of our size just can't afford to do that all at once. I was considering putting two or three people at a time through the scheme, as cashflow allowed, but that wouldn't have met the MCG deadline of 1 January this year. I was a bit stuck.

Then one day I got a flyer for a lunch meeting. Usually they go straight in the bin but by chance I actually had a look at this one. It was advertising a pilot scheme (the Employer Training Pilot) run by the Learning and Skills Council, which offers free assessment and training and compensates employers for the time staff take off to train.

I made a call to them and that's when it all took off. They paid the majority of the costs, and monitored the scheme to ensure the training provider would deliver. They also paid wage compensation to us to compensate the firm for the workers' time taken up by the training, which was almost too good to be true. So I was very enthusiastic.

We don’t have much access to day-release college facilities; lots of small firms like us have suffered. The industry is short of NVQ assessors and we need more people starting to take on that responsibility

They started off by coming in and doing a full training needs assessment for the whole company, and we found 15 people fitted the profile for the course and were signed up for the appropriate specialised NVQs. They profiled each person's needs individually, so that the training would fill the gaps in each person's skills profile. The training provider then came on site and observed what each individual was doing to check they could do what they said they could do. They developed a really good relationship with the guys.

It's taken 10 months for us all to complete. We've received three of the certificates already but we're waiting until we get all of them and then we're going to have a big presentation ceremony. We're really proud of what we've done. It has allowed the whole company, not just those in the pilot, to benefit. It didn't take up any of our company training budget so we're now saying to everyone else in the company that they can do an NVQ too.

We now have a full training and development plan. It's given us a mindset that we'll continue to train because we see the benefit of it. We've got our Investors in People award because of this and we won a regional small business award. We were also a finalist in the Derbyshire Business of the Year award. So there have been a lot of positive spin-offs for us. We've been lucky to benefit from this.