19 August 2016

Incongruous. That would be my description of this, my first missive since joining Nwes a month ago. Why incongruous? Incongruous because whilst Nwes deals with a large number of new businesses, this piece concerns itself with the relationship between the skills needs of Great Britain and the training opportunities that are routinely provided – a topic that is generally of more interest to larger, established organisations. Incongruous indeed.

Why did I select this particular subject? The fact of the matter is, I was caught badly on the hop during my interview for this post when the interviewer unexpectedly asked me what would be the title of my first blog. Somewhat blindsided by this strange angle of attack, I defaulted to my favourite soap box subject. Ten minutes later, when the interviewer’s eyes had begun to glaze over, I deemed they had suffered enough for their impertinent question and descended from said box with a muttered and insincere apology for rambling.

So then, provision of learning vs the skills needs of business: received wisdom suggests that a business’s effectiveness in its core operations will determine whether or not it survives, whilst its efficiency will then determine if it will thrive. Efficient allocation of public funds within the learning and skills sector has, to my mind, been lacking for a number of years.

With economic shifts on the horizon post-referendum, it is now imperative that skills priorities are clearly identified and that such financial support available from the government is channeled efficiently to meet these priorities.

We hear regularly from industry and commerce about skills shortages in certain sectors, including truly thriving sectors – perennial (construction, civils) and bang up to the minute (renewables, offshore, hi-tech engineering/manufacturing) companies all bemoan the lack of skilled people available. And yet  with all the negative headlines about youth unemployment and the need to provide retraining opportunities for mature workers, we see the same subjects offered by training providers. It seems the system may be failing to address real needs whilst producing a surfeit of competent people in disciplines already well catered for.

Am I simply looking for someone to blame for this situation with some self-righteous finger pointing? Actually no – to my mind it really isn’t a question of blame. What is, to my mind at least, absolutely vital is for future training funds to be centred on the needs of the evolving economy rather than what’s easy to provide. It’s not impossible, but it requires a willingness to divert from the path of least resistance and to make radical changes to an established system when it is obviously not working.

So, other than the broad observations above is there a solution? Perhaps things are already slowly moving in the right direction. As part of the Government funded Start and Grow programme, which Nwes has the privilege of delivering through much of Eastern England. Research has identified a number of areas in which start up businesses commonly need support. These disciplines and topics are included in the range of workshops offered via the programme. If this research driven / needs based approach can be replicated for existing businesses and be embraced by Training Providers, then we may indeed be on the right track.

Written by Nwes Growth Hub Advisor, David Scates. To learn more about the training provided by Nwes and the Start & Grow programme, head here.

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