185 apprenticeships have been created in Oxfordshire using £3.5m in funding.

The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership Skills Team (OxLEP Skills) announced the milestone, due to its successful ‘Grow Your Own’ Apprenticeship Levy Pledge Initiative.

The programme launched in May 2022 and has already surpassed its original £1.3m pledge target.

OxLEP Skills said that the initiative has gained momentum since launch, with more businesses joining to pledge.

They're now calling on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), charities, and social enterprises within the county to apply and hire apprentices.

Businesses from key sectors like manufacturing, digital, green skills and others can utilise the funds for apprenticeship opportunities tailored to their needs.

Levy funding, if not used or pledged, is retracted and returned to the Treasury.

The ‘Grow Your Own’ initiative aims to keep apprenticeship funds within Oxfordshire.

The levy is an obligation for large employers with an annual pay bill of £3 million or more.

A recent government announcement allows these companies to transfer up to 50 per cent of their funds to smaller businesses, which can help cover their apprenticeship training costs.

The transfer cap was previously 25 per cent.

Support from prominent companies played a notable role in achieving this milestone.

Facilities management company Mitie pledged £100,000 to encourage women in STEM apprenticeships.

Legal & General also committed £100,000. £16,000 of which has already benefited Rosewood Nursery in Chipping Norton.

Kelly Gough, manager at Rosewood Nursery, said: "We are a newly established nursery in Chipping Norton.

"As with many areas across the UK, childcare spots are in high demand and the Early Years sector is notoriously challenging for recruitment, especially since the pandemic hit.

"Today, we have grown into a team of nine skilled childcare practitioners, and we now cater to 40 children.

"However, this growth would not have been possible without Michelle and Kate.

"Their career advancement opportunities, dedication and ability to learn quickly on the job have been crucial."

Sally Andreou, skills hub manager at OxLEP, said: "We’re extremely proud to announce another apprenticeship levy-pledge milestone – completely surpassing our original target.

"The interest we’ve garnered from businesses wishing to pledge their unused levy funds is testament to the calibre of organisations we have in Oxfordshire and their wish to further skills and retain talent.

"We continue to encourage small businesses in Oxfordshire - who have not yet taken advantage of the funds available through the apprenticeship levy transfer scheme - to get involved and unlock the door to a growing future workforce."

Apart from apprenticeships, the Social Contract programme also aims to address impacts of the covid-19 pandemic through initiatives like the 'No Limits' programme, which includes funding employment support workers and supplying IT equipment.