A MANUFACTURER has become the first company in Dorset to sign up for a scheme that will support small businesses in hiring apprentices.

Ferndown-based Superior Seals has joined the Apprenticemakers scheme, which offers an online peer-to-peer support community for businesses taking on apprentices.

Apprenticemakers has been developed by the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative (SFEDI) in conjunction with the National Apprenticeship Service.

The move follows a government-backed review into the shortage of apprenticeships in small businesses. Around 99 per cent of UK businesses are small, yet the proportion taking up apprenticeships is less than 10 per cent - less than half that of larger companies.

Superior Seals, which makes high integrity O-rings and seals, took on its first two engineering apprentices in 2009 and soon developed its own apprenticeship programme. It now takes on five apprentices a year and has invested £1m in a dedicated training academy.

Ben Clarke, quality manager at Superior Seals and a former apprentice, said: “We currently have 18 apprentices working throughout the company including positions in the tool room, sales, quality control, engineering and operations.

“This represents more than 10 per cent of our workforce, which is remarkable when you consider that it’s only a few years ago that our first apprentices joined, but is testament to the value that we recognise in these individuals and the role they have to play.

“Apprenticemakers will give business owners the opportunity to ask key questions, glean knowledge and connect with like-minded organisations which may be of a similar size, working in the same industry or at the same stage of business development as themselves.”

For details visit the website apprenticemakers.org.uk