Cumbria LEP is fully committed to deliver an effective investment plan to help businesses, strategic partners and training providers, address the skills shortfall in the county.
The mission statement of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership is “unleashing potential through partnership”.
In February last year the LEP put its bold words into action when it announced an ambitious plan to assist employers improve skill levels and increase the workforce. The Skills Investment Plan aims to strengthen the links between industry and training providers, and by doing so work in partnership to address the county’s skills and employment challenges.
A major challenge faced by the county is that the number of jobs to be filled by 2021 exceeds the number of people expected to enter the labour market. With nearly half of those jobs requiring qualifications at HND level or above, and with currently fewer than three out of 10 people of working age in Cumbria qualified to that level, the problem is plain to see.
As the LEP’s Head of Employment and Skills, Craig Ivison is at the front line in the roll out of the plan. Since January this year his role has been to work with employers and training providers to develop strategies that meet employer needs and reflect the priorities of the Skills Investment Plan.
He is in no doubt that that there is no time to lose if the challenges facing the county are to be met.
“The projected workforce shortfall comes at a time when the need to fill jobs is increasingly significant,” he says. “Opportunities are arising across the Cumbrian economy and the message from employers is loud and clear that we must have the means of meeting the demand.”
According to Craig, one challenge is retaining young people in the county.
“We have very talented young people in Cumbria, and we have to show them that we have opportunities that match their aspirations.”
Ensuring the workforce has the requisite qualifications is another challenge to overcome. With many new jobs requiring grades of Level 3 and above, there is a genuine concern that less than 30 per cent of Cumbria’s working population currently has that level of qualification.
Craig, however, remains optimistic that the ground is shifting in the right direction.
A lot of employers in Cumbria are SMEs, and we need to support them to extend the knowledge of their workforce by training and upskilling.
“The qualification base in Cumbria has already changed over the years, as a result of a responsive education and training infrastructure. The aim of the Skills Investment Plan is to accelerate that by working with employers and training providers to develop the right training where it is needed.” One target of the Skills Investment Plan is to increase the number of apprentices in Cumbria from 5,000 to 6,000 – and here there has already been tangible success, with the latest figure standing at 5,900.
“That’s a pretty astonishing achievement at a time when there have been substantial changes to the apprenticeship system,” Craig says. “At the moment Cumbria outperforms almost every other area in England when it comes to apprenticeship numbers, and continues to build on its successful track record.”
It is perhaps too early to begin to measure the success of the Skills Investment Plan in terms of practical statistics. However in the short time it has been operating, there is enough evidence to suggest that it is more than simply a wish-list.
The Skills Investment Plan aims to strengthen the links between industry and training providers, and by doing so work in partnership to address the county’s skills and employment challenges.
LEP has been working in partnership with funding agencies to develop skills programmes, such as The Edge project to focus on SME skills needs with organisations like the Growth Hub and a range of skills providers. There has also been capital investment in training infrastructure, such as STEM labs at the University of Cumbria, advanced manufacturing centres at Carlisle and Furness College, and a new sheep husbandry centre at Newton Rigg College, near Penrith.
Meanwhile employer panels have been set up with representatives from all the key sectors, including nuclear, advanced manufacturing, logistics, rural and visitor economy.
“There has already been some major investment, but we will continue to work with partners to respond to the needs that employers are identifying.” Craig says.
“In the long term, however, the measure of success will be increased productivity with skills being the contributory factor. But there are reasons to be optimistic because we’ve already seen highly effective partnerships between employers and the skills sector. Craig is aware that there is a danger of preaching to the converted, and that initiatives like the Skills Investment Plan needs to reflect the needs of employers across the county’s economy. “A lot of employers in Cumbria are SMEs, and we need to support them to extend the knowledge of their workforce by training and upskilling.
“The partnerships with employers and a responsive education and training sector will inform the delivery of education in the county for a good many years. The role of the LEP is ongoing and will continue to meet the needs of employers.
“Meanwhile we have had some really good successes here and we need to celebrate that.”
We have very talented young people in Cumbria, and we have to show them that we have opportunities that match their aspirations.