Tackling skills shortage in Chesterfield and north Derbyshire

The town’s high rate of public sector employment combined with its strong retail, manufacturing, and logistics sectors, have been attributed to Chesterfield’s significantly lower increase in unemployment during the pandemic compared to the national average.

By Anna Melton
Monday, 13th December 2021, 9:00 am
The discussion took place via video conferencing due to covid-19
The discussion took place via video conferencing due to covid-19

The borough’s level of unemployment increased by 46% during the pandemic compared to the national average of 77%.

Despite the increase in the level of unemployment nationally, recruitment has become an increasing challenge for many businesses over the last 19 months.

The implications of Covid-19 have exacerbated the scale of skill shortages across the UK which were already triggered by Brexit and the Fourth industrial revolution. Skills shortages have, significantly increasing the need for reskilling and upskilling across all sectors.

Addressing the concerns, the government launched its Lifetime Skills Guarantee earlier this year, offering tens of thousands of adults the opportunity to retrain in later life, helping them to gain in-demand skills and open up further job opportunities. Future local skills needs are being addressed by the Made in Chesterfield and MyFuture campaigns.

With initiatives already in place, this month’s round table brought together key figures from the town’s skills and education sector to discuss how organisations can work collaboratively, to tackle the local skills shortage.

Organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, the round table was once again, held remotely using video conferencing technology.

Taking part were:

JM – Josh Marsh – Destination Chesterfield Coordinator (Chair)

ST – Sarah Temperton – Chief Executive, NLT Training Services

AG – Alan Grant – Chief Operations Officer, Elliot Mather LLP

EW – Emily Williams – Skills Delivery Officer, Chesterfield Borough Council

GV – Gavin Varley – Director of Engineering and Construction, Chesterfield College

AD – Andy Dowling – Business Development Manager for Apprenticeships and Skills, University of Derby

PE – Pieter Eksteen, Education and Business Partnership Manager, East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire)

How has the skills landscape in Chesterfield changed over the last 18 months and how much are young people being affected?

GV – What we’ve seen throughout the pandemic is a shift to support those out of work. We’ve also seen a large rise in people wanting to take up a trade specific skill, like electrical installation, plumbing, painting and decorating, and bricklaying. We’ve also seen more women come into construction and seen a lot more people interested in complete career change.

AD – One sector that has been badly affected is engineering. We’ll have about half the apprentice starts this year compared to previous years. On the other hand, we’ve seen a big increase in the health sector, nursing apprenticeships in particular, which is great. The exposure for the NHS during Covid as well as additional funding through NHS England to support apprentices has worked really well.

EW – In the last 18 months there’s been a greater emphasis on reskilling and upskilling the workforce, but also on those who are seeking employment too. We’ve had 180 Kickstart placements from the Chesterfield Job Centre, 30 of which have now completed.

We’ve also called for more funding and flexibility, resulting in apprenticeship grants for employers being extended until the end of January.

ST – We have also been working closely with Chesterfield Job Centre to deliver our Step into Employment programme which helps unemployed people access free support in a similar way to a job club.

AG – Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen a lack of younger people enquiring about roles which could be due to the fact work experience in schools hasn’t happened because of Covid. At our peak, we were receiving anything from 100 – 200 work experience applications per year. This year, we’ve received around a dozen.

PE –We’ve had a lot of employers telling us that young people are just not work ready. I think this is down to the fact that the focus during Covid was on getting students back into the classroom and teaching. I think this is going to have a knock-on effect for youth employment even for the next academic year.

EW – The MyFuture online careers platform, launched during Covid as part of the economic recovery plan, is one of the ways in which we have tried to bridge the gap for careers provision in schools during the pandemic.

How can skills providers work together to address the current skills shortage we’re seeing across a number of sectors?

EW – The nature of funding in the skills and education sector doesn’t always encourage collaboration. However, I do think we’re doing well in Chesterfield. One of the ways in which we’re encouraging collaboration is through the Chesterfield Apprentice Town initiative. Every six weeks, we bring all the apprenticeship and training providers together to discuss how we can support Chesterfield’s growth ambitions. That network has been running for around 18 months now.

GV – There’s a clear need to upskill around digital, particularly in construction. We’ve bought into virtual reality, augmented reality and all the top spec design equipment that you need. We’re designing our own virtual reality lessons and looking into modern methods of construction. Transferrable skills are key. We have games design students in work experience placements in construction because the skills and knowledge is transferrable.

AD – I think it’s all about creating real life experiences with learning. Around five years ago we opened up our STEM centre with all the kit so students can learn and then apply that knowledge in a safe, practical environment.

EW - The Made in Chesterfield campaign in November provided both virtual and in-person workplace tours for young people to gain experience of engineering and manufacturing environments.

ST – As a commercial training provider, we’re used to working collaboratively with employers as its important deliver what they need and when they need it. We worked with the construction and engineering sectors throughout the Covid restrictions delivering health and safety training.

AG – Because of the nature of the work we do, we don’t often engage with skills providers. I don’t think there’s a massive channel between skills providers and the professional services network.

AD – We want to look at delivering more professional services courses from our Chesterfield campus. We have to get the numbers to merit running the courses. That’s a challenge we’ve got at the moment.

GV – From a funding perspective, courses for any sector must be financially viable.

How can we encourage talented young people to stay in Chesterfield and take up the training opportunities here?

EW – We’re working very hard with our partners, employers and providers to put Chesterfield on the map. It’s a vibrant town with regular events and we have got a strong offer here.

GV – It’s encouraging for young people to see the level of investment in Chesterfield right now compared to the bigger cities. There are thousands of houses being built. The future looks bright for young people in the town.

AG –We must continue telling people what we’re doing and get that early message into schools so that young people can consider the opportunities here in the town.

AD – We need to support teachers. A lot of them have taken the University route and don’t really understand the vocational route.

ST – It’s an age-old problem. Because they don’t know what otherwise or haven’t had the right careers guidance, some students think the only route is A Levels and University. Schools are now required to give broader careers advice, but I suspect the problem will continue.

EW – Made in Chesterfield campaign is incredibly important in building those strong links between employers and education providers. Careers guidance does need to improve, but it really is important to continue to highlight the opportunities available to school leavers in the town.

GV – I think we leave it too late to get young people start thinking about their possible career opportunities. The key thing for us is trying to engage young people at junior school and get them out of their usual school environment. I’ve spoken with schools, and they absolutely want to do it.

PE – The Chamber was privileged enough to take part in a project last year called Our Future Derby, where we specifically engaged with primary schools to raise aspirations, particularly in areas where we were seeing fourth generation unemployment.

What are providers and businesses doing to reskill and upskill people affected by the economic changes we’ve seen over the last 18 months?

ST – There are lots of opportunities there and it’s about matching people up to the right ones. The Job Centres, which have been closed throughout Covid, are only just starting to re-open for face-to-face meetings.

EW – There is provision locally in Chesterfield to support people with the needs to reskill and upskill. In the Skills White Paper published by the Government earlier this year, it announced increased flexibility in what we call lifetime learning. That’s essentially providing adults with the funding for full level 3 qualifications if they don’t already have one.

PE – There are a number of funded training programmes for digital skills from the D2N2 Growth Hub. The Digital High Streets programme has recently been launched in Chesterfield together with lots of other business support programmes.

AD – We’ve got around 1800 apprentices now and 40% of those are existing members of staff who are adult learners. The average age of learners at the university is around 24 years old. The adult learner market is a big area for us.

GV – We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of adults taking part in a vocational programme, and that’s due to the effects of the pandemic.

PE - For employers, it ultimately comes down to money and whether they have the funding to put into skills for their employees.

AG – In some sectors there is a need for more vocational training routes. For example, it’s a real gamble for a law firm to take on an 18-year-old for a seven year qualification when they’ve never worked in an office before.

EW - The Skills Bootcamp which is a free 10-week virtual skills training programme for current students and recent graduates, is designed to help develop employability skills, build a digital portfolio, and connect to a variety of internship and job opportunities. There are three local providers delivering the Skills Bootcamp.

ST - The Step into Employment programme is funded by NLT. It is free to take part in and we can work with any number of providers to refer people onto the programme.

Available skills support and training providers

MyFuture - https://www.chesterfield.co.uk/about-chesterfield/learning/myfuture/

Skills and training business support – https://www.chesterfield.co.uk/business/business-support/skills/

Digital High Street: https://www.chesterfield.co.uk/business/business-support/chesterfield-digital-high-street/

Apprenticeships: https://www.chesterfield.co.uk/apprenticeships/pprenticeships in Chesterfield - Destination Chesterfield | Destination Chesterfield

Kickstarter: https://www.emc-dnl.co.uk/kickstart-vacancies/

Step Into Employment - Contact Janice Parker on 07947 550 571 or email [email protected]