How do we close Derbyshire's skills gap?

The UK economy is facing a shortage of skilled workers – a report by the ONS (Office of National Statistics) revealed there’s a significant skills gap amongst Derbyshire residents who have fewer higher-level qualifications compared with England.
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Covid-19 also exacerbated existing concerns about young people’s position in the labour market. Young people were more adversely affected than other generations by changes to employment and work caused by the pandemic.

Initiatives like Made in Chesterfield festival, Apprentice Town, the MyFuture platform and the annual chesterfield Skills and Education Conference, which Destination Chesterfield has worked with a number of partners to deliver, have actively sought to engage young people in careers in Chesterfield. However, can more be done?

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Addressing this as well as discussing how training and skills providers in Chesterfield can work together to ensure the town has a future workforce which has the skills needed by the local economy, were discussed by members of this month’s round table.

The discussion took place remotely via video conferenceThe discussion took place remotely via video conference
The discussion took place remotely via video conference

Organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, the Skills and Education Round Table was held remotely.

Taking part were:

JM – Josh Marsh - Coordinator, Destination Chesterfield

AS – Cllr. Amanda Serjeant - Deputy Leader, Chesterfield Borough Council

RS – Rebecca Stevenson - Clinic Owner, The Body Health Centre

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TF – Tom Fearn - Business Development Manager, Apprentice Team Ltd.

IB – Ian Bates - Sector Forum and Representation Manager, East Midlands Chamber

KG – Kerry Ganly - Account Manager, Penguin PR

JL – James Lund - Head of Business Development, Chesterfield College Group

AG – Alex Glasner - Managing Director, Work Pays

LB – Luke Brailsford - Senior Business Manager, DBC Training

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What’s been done in Chesterfield to ensure young people haven’t missed out on vital educational/careers resources during the Covid-19 pandemic?

AS – In 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, Chesterfield Borough Council worked with its education partners in the community to launch an online careers platform called MyFuture, giving young people in the area access to careers information and employment support.

TF – We’ve engaged with local job centres as well as through social media campaigns to share what an apprenticeship is and how it can benefit people.

JL – Throughout Covid-19 we carried on with our events and campaigns but held them all online. It was very difficult and the fact we weren’t able to have face-to-face interaction meant we weren’t able to properly showcase all of the options available to students and have them meet employers in person etc.

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IB – The Kickstart scheme, that launched in 2020/21, was hugely beneficial for securing young people apprenticeships following their work placements.

LB – We go to as many school/college events to make ourselves and our apprenticeship scheme known as well as having campaigns on GCSE and/or A-Level results days to ensure that those students who may not have received their expected grade know there’s always another option.

RS – A lot of young people don’t know what they are capable of or are aware of options available to them. Making young people aware of what’s out there is vital.

KG – It’s important to reassure young people that post 16, there are a number of options and t pathways since the pandemic and it’s about making that known. Sometimes information can be overwhelming, and it needs to be streamlined.

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AS - Sharing the information we have about the different options and pathways available is important as is making young people aware that it is okay if they want to change their mind if they’ve chosen something that isn’t right for them.

What has been the knock-on effect of the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic that you’ve noticed within your organisations, with training and skills of young people especially?

JL – We’ve lost 18 months of engagement in young people due to the lack of access to work experience. The decline in young people’s mental health has been an issue as the pandemic prevented them from getting out there and gaining the life skills for the workplace.

IB – Health and social care is a sector that is struggling to gain skilled workers and the feeling is that it would be helpful for people to have the option of work placements and experiences within it to enable them to test the waters and be able to decide then whether that’s the career path they would like to take.

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AS – The value of participating in work experience is priceless. However, the lack of it available work experience opportunities remain an issue as some employers are still trying to get their teams back into the office.

IB – Many of our newer employees have been keen to come into the office as they haven’t had the experience of working in the office environment. For some employees working from home isn’t ideal and has definitely had an impact on their mental health.

KG – The impact of sitting behind a screen for the past two years has had a negative impact on young people’s communication and social skills. However, there has been a noticeable improvement in their digital skills.

AG – We received additional budget during the pandemic to make sure our learners had laptops and could work effectively from home. However, one of the key issues for some students was access to the internet and the cost associated with it. We were also able to provide dongles to those students to ensure their learning wasn’t affected.

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AS – Navigating futures, careers and mental health post-pandemic has been incredibly difficult.

KG – The Cavendish Learning Trust has been working with Netherthorpe School in Staveley to open a hub to students and the outside community to improve the mental health of those affected by the pandemic.

What are we doing in the town to ensure that young people know what options are available to them, including the non-traditional pathways?

IB – The process of hiring apprentices, particularly for small businesses, is quite complex and it would be helpful to eradicate. Creating the demand for apprentices from business perspective is important but we have to make it easier for them to hire.

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RS – We are a very small business, and we’d love to offer apprenticeships in the future, but we need to be aware of how to do that.

LB – The traditional school/career events are helpful for students who are currently in education, but more could be done for post-18 young people who have left education and don’t have immediate access to information through education providers.

KG – Making the most of social media as tools to engage with potential students is important. Social media has become relied upon for more than catching up with friends and dance trends since the pandemic.

AS – Building websites that enable for young people to access and see all their options in one space has been vital to ensuring they can learn about the various options. Embedding widgets in employers’ and educators’ websites has also been a great move to enable young people to quickly and easily click through to the right place to get the information they need.

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How are organisations/skills providers and businesses working together and collaborating to ensure a pipeline of talent?

IB – Many businesses are struggling to recruit at the moment. For businesses to be able to work with schools, colleges and training providers, ensures a future workforce with specified skills and talents they need within a company.]

KG – There are many great opportunities for businesses and training providers in Derbyshire to collaborate. Sharing testimonials and piggy-backing on others’ social media campaigns helps make a great story even better. Both the young people and employers will benefit from this. Young people will receive the skills they need for their future, and employers will gain recruits with the right skills for their business.

AS – The forthcoming Staveley Construction Skills Hub is a great example of businesses collaborating with skills providers to ensure young people can experience a real construction site. Made in Chesterfield and the Kickstart scheme are also perfect examples of skills providers and businesses collaborating to tackle the skills shortage.

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LB – Instead of it being competitive, training/skills providers need to collaborate to ensure that, between us, we can offer a full range of training. This way we can refer people to the right places where they will get the skills and training they need.

What can we do to retain the talent in businesses to help drive the economy forward in Chesterfield?

AS – As a council, we are working with Chesterfield-based employers that don’t just operate locally but also throughout the world so that we can show young people that they don’t have to move to a city to gain big opportunities; Chesterfield can provide them.

AG – The key to retaining talent is to invest in it. By providing apprenticeships businesses are showing that not only do they care about getting people into work, but young people gain the skills needed to see them forward in the future. That show of care makes a difference.

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KG – The importance of communicating with potential recruits is also important to understand what they’re looking for within a workplace. There has been a real shift in this since the pandemic. For example, many people are drawn to companies that offer flexible working and incentives over salary.

AS – The investment in the Northern Gateway Enterprise Centre has also meant we’ve had businesses relocating from cities like Nottingham and Sheffield to come to Chesterfield creating opportunities for local people.

JL – It’s also important for businesses to understand at the interview stage what candidates’ plans are for five years’ time. Business can then plan for future staffing needs, not immediate ones.

What changes have we seen over the past 18 months amongst businesses and organisations to face the challenges of retraining/upskilling in the area?

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JL – We have invested in the provision of digital skills for our full-time students. We’ve also included the digital skills courses in apprenticeships too so that those who are using them to upskill or retrain can benefit from them.

KG – The digital skills everybody needs now are vital, not only for students and young people but also for the older generation who haven’t had a need to use the technology in the workplace until now.

LB – Job Centres are currently targeting the 50+ market to get involved in digital skills training courses. This really builds people’s confidence in what they’re capable of doing moving forward in their career but is also beneficial for their life skills too.

IB – Digital training courses can be adapted to suit everyone. The monetary costs involved with in-person training sessions are avoided by supplying an online learning option.

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JL – We’ve introduced Industrial Days and Industry Weeks at Chesterfield College to showcase the options of work placements and the many different roles available. There are opportunities for admin, HR and marketing within engineering and construction businesses too.

AS – One of the most important changes has been the increased communication and collaboration between training providers and businesses in the area to ensure everyone is receiving what they need. From young people gaining skills, to employers receiving skilled recruits, and the older generation retraining and upskilling where necessary.