Case Study

Seizing the Opportunity

Rob Johnston Cumbria Chamber of Commerce

A substantial fund is now available to raise the skill levels of the Cumbrian workforce and Rob Johnston is determined that the business community makes the most of this opportunity to drive profitable growth.

This skills project is arguably one of the most important initiatives the Growth Hub has been involved in to date, because, if you look at the future challenges we face in Cumbria and the opportunities available to businesses, there’s a fine line between going under as an economy and success.

There are a number of reasons for this, including our shrinking working age population and the uncertainties surrounding Brexit.

I am, however, optimistic because there’s so much going for our county. People value the products and services Cumbria produces. We also live in an age of new and exciting opportunities from a business perspective. There’s every reason to believe that we can meet the challenges ahead and can confidently aspire to real growth and profitability.

How then do we support businesses to deliver profitable growth? And what can we do to ensure Cumbrian businesses have access to new markets and the opportunities they offer?

From where I’m sitting, fundamental to driving profitable growth is the quality of Cumbria’s workforce. In addition to effective and skilful business leaders, we also need the right skills base of suitably qualified and motivated people. This ranges from the more traditional ‘trade’ skills to the skills needed to take advantage of the latest developments in design, logistics and production software, or internet marketing and statistical modelling tools, which will very much dictate how businesses will operate in the future.

So the Growth Hub and its partners need to help employers consider carefully how they will develop the skills their businesses need to compete successfully, maintain profitable growth and make the most of future opportunities.

What this new initiative provides is specific funding and support to enable businesses to train and upskill their staff to ensure we can grow the skills base in Cumbria. The businesses that invest now in upskilling their people will be the winners of the future.

With a shrinking working age population and strong demand, recruiting talent from outside your business as and when required is no longer the easy option. Skills need to be developed from within a company’s existing workforce, which could include, for example, investing in apprenticeship schemes. And given the strong competition, businesses will need to work much harder to retain and motivate the staff they have. The best way of doing this is to introduce training programmes that will not only benefit the individual but ensure the business develops a workforce that is genuinely fit for its future growth aspirations.

There’s an added benefit here as this will also make them a more attractive proposition for any potential recruits.

Put simply, productivity is driven by investment in things like plant and machinery and investment in people. Over a number of years, the Growth Hub and its partners have worked with thousands of businesses, principally small to medium enterprises, to develop their growth plans and increase their profitability and sustainability, in doing so impacting positively on the local economy. What this new initiative provides is specific funding and support to enable businesses to train and upskill their staff to ensure we can grow the skills base in Cumbria. The businesses that invest now in upskilling their people will be the winners of the future.

Think about it. If you had the opportunity of free help to identify your skills gaps and put in place the training your people need to develop and grow your business, plus funding for that training, wouldn’t you jump at the chance? Well that’s exactly what we’re offering. Cumbria’s businesses now have at their disposal an experienced business support team through the Growth Hub, specialist skills delivery partners through The Edge consortium and substantial funding for training. That adds up to a phenomenal package and it’s available to tap into right now.

The reality is your competitors will be doing this so you need to get ahead by taking advantage of this scheme.

Throughout this magazine we feature case studies that demonstrate the positive impact on businesses that have made the decision to invest in skills development. We can all learn from their experiences. What they show is that is that skills are transforming their businesses and adding real value to their balance sheets. Just how much value the investment in skills can potentially offer to businesses is explained in the article by Suzanne Caldwell, Deputy Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

Another reason we’ve put so much energy behind this initiative is because we see the wider benefits that it can provide. Our experience in engaging with businesses tells us we urgently need to work together as partners to develop a skills delivery system that really works for business. I’m hoping that the project will provide a template for a service that genuinely understands the needs of employers linked to system that can deliver timely and relevant skills training and support that meets the needs of businesses now and in the future. With well over 2500 detailed TNAs carried out with Cumbrian businesses over the course of the project, we should have the evidence base that will allow us to shape the service of the future.

A key part of that solution is to encourage more employers to consider apprenticeship schemes, which provide a genuine, and valuable, alternative to the now conventional university route. They also provide a structured package of learning and development, ensuring the training supports the business objectives – whatever the age of the person. If, for example, 20% of businesses in Cumbria could take on an additional apprentice, imagine the impact this would have on the local economy.

That’s almost 4,000 extra skilled and motivated people adding real value to the businesses they work for.

If 20% of businesses in Cumbria could take on an additional apprentice, imagine the impact this would have on the local economy? That’s almost 4,000 extra skilled and motivated people adding real value to the businesses they work for.

The pot of money available to the project from the European Social Fund is £8.5million. So there’s plenty of funding available. Time is not on our side though – businesses need to take advantage of the funding scheme before July 2018. We may never see skills funding at this level again, at least not from the EU, so employers should see this as ‘a once in a lifetime’ opportunity that could transform and add significant value to their operations.

There’s no mystery to what businesses need to do to put plans in place to meet their future skills needs and no costs involved if employers genuinely want to start exploring what is out there in terms of funding, training delivery and business support. Profiting through Skills is basically a call to action that I hope all Cumbrian businesses will take the opportunity to benefit from.

Five Easy Steps

Cumbria Business Growth Hub provides an employer focused support service offering advice and guidance on workforce development and apprenticeships and access to funded training.

It’s as simple as this:

  • Get in touch with one of our employer service team members on 0844 257 84 50 who will explain how the scheme works.
  • One of our specialist advisers will meet with you to carry out a full review of your training needs (TNA), designed to identify where improved skills could help your business.
  • We’ll review your TNA and pass it to an experienced training provider, or providers, suited to your needs.
  • They’ll contact you to arrange appropriate training programmes for your employees, funded through the scheme and elsewhere.
  • If you have needs that can’t be funded, we’ll help you to find relevant offers covering those as well.
This service is completely free and impartial!

Employers should see this as ‘a once in a lifetime’ opportunity that could transform and add significant value to their operations.

Rob Johnston, Cumbria Chamber of Commerce