20 December 2021

Providing a ‘total skills solution’ for Dorset

Providing a ‘total skills solution’ for Dorset

As she takes on the new post of Vice-Chancellor and CEO of Falmouth University, Professor Emma Hunt reflects on her two years as Chair of Dorset Skills Advisory Panel and Board for Dorset LEP. This article by Emma looks back at the strategic partnership’s critical work in bridging the gap between employers and skills providers and dedicated efforts to develop, attract and retain the skills needed for Dorset’s economic growth.

A critical success factor for Dorset’s economic future is the development of a skilled, resilient, and productive workforce for Dorset’s priority established and growth sectors.

As such, skills has been a strategic priority for Dorset LEP to address a range of grand challenges, including those for local employment, such as an ageing workforce (Dorset has one of the oldest populations and lowest proportion of under 50s anywhere in the UK), and businesses not being able to recruit the skills needed to help them to meet demand, innovate and to grow.

Dorset Skills Advisory Panel and Board was established by Dorset LEP to bring together local employers, educators and policy and decision makers in a partnership to provide a ‘total skills solution’ for the whole county and to support a highly skilled workforce and inclusive growth in Dorset.

As an advisory group, our common goal is to ensure skills provision and aspiration in the county meet business demand and opportunity, taking a future look to employer’s needs, improving our understanding, and looking at available funding opportunities.

One of the main attributes of Dorset Skills Advisory Panel and Board is that any activity discussed, debated, prioritised and invested in is based on robust evidence of our regional skills and labour market strengths, challenges and future prospects that are centred on collaboration, partnership, and diversity.

At the start of 2020 we commissioned a Dorset Employer Skills survey to enhance local insight into the workforce needs and skills challenges that stifle productivity and growth of local firms and sectors. Almost 250 Dorset employers from a range of sectors engaged in the survey helping to inform local skills providers of their employment needs and challenges.

The findings from the survey highlighted complex weaknesses within the local skills system, pointing out barriers to training and apprenticeship investment experienced by employers and the need for proactive collaboration and productive partnerships between employers and educators to solve Dorset’s pronounced skills gaps and shortages now and in the future.

In addition to this we have conducted several research deep dives to inform Dorset’s Local Industrial Strategy, Skills Action Plan and Local Skills Report and most recently the Investment Prospectus.

The release of regular localised labour market and skills research information, alongside interactive dashboards for Dorset’s key sectors, has provided valuable insightful information on the changing labour market and skills landscape assisting educators, employers, job seekers, young people and their parents in making informed decisions. This qualitative and quantitative data evidence has been critical in helping us and our partners to understand the local employment and furlough situation throughout the pandemic.

Our Local Skills Report was co-created with employers, educational colleagues and stakeholders and designed to tell the story of our regional strengths, challenges and prospects. It also outlines our strategic direction of travel including ambitions surrounding living well, increasing productivity and removing inequality in Dorset as well as the key priorities in meeting skills demand, ensure future growth and talent attraction and retention locally.

The report puts forward our pledge to develop innovative recruitment, attraction, employability and retention solutions and industry collaborations and improve facilities, curricular and virtual access to study.

This includes closely monitoring the outcomes of our £5m Local Growth Fund investment in facility upgrades at Bournemouth and Poole College, Weymouth College and Kingston Maurward College, supporting the engineering & manufacturing, financial and rural industry sectors. In addition, Dorset LEP’s £3.5 million Getting Building Fund investments will bring new higher education opportunities for pupils in West Dorset via the creation of a new Higher Education Centre at Weymouth College and an exciting new business university hub at Kingston Maurward College.

The creation of two Digital and Enterprise Innovation Hubs at Bournemouth and Poole College provide a central focus to promote the development of employability and enterprise skills to ensure students are work-ready and enter industries as more productive employees.

Dorset Gateway, Dorset LEP’s business growth hub, is providing networking and learning opportunities including supporting scale-ups and high growth SMEs, fostering crowdfunding, apprenticeship support, signposting to a range of independent providers and a peer-to-peer networking programme for SME leaders.

We were successful in securing funding from the Department for Work and Pensions to explore a pilot project with Dorset-based businesses who want to help employees undertake a ‘MidLife MOT’, assessing their current career situation and identifying any future training needs.

The Dorset Skills Advisory Panel and Board has also been instrumental in facilitating the launch and successful expansion of Dorset Careers Hub and Enterprise Adviser Network.  The hub now works with over 75 schools and colleges across the county, with dedicated support for SEND education providers. Engagement with Cornerstone Employers networks and supply chains are utilised to accelerate the work and championing the all-important connections to the world of work.

One of my personal highlights of the role has been assembling real connections between our local strengths in innovation, entrepreneurial talent and business engagement. I am very proud that as a LEP we have been able to invest, support and bring to life exciting developments at Dorset Innovation Park – Dorset’s Enterprise Zone in Wool - via the new Defence BattleLab and at the new AUB Innovation Studio bringing SMEs in touch with our creative talent to develop innovation solutions to defence and business challenges.

Our work in this area has also extended into the health innovation arena, with new investment partnerships with Dorset NHS, Bournemouth University and AECC University College, ensuring businesses can benefit from the growing R&D capacity and supporting a sufficient pipeline of skilled workers in these areas to support Dorset’s healthy living economic ambitions.

Recent events such as the global pandemic and national policy changes and the significant impacts these have had on employers, residents and in particular our youngest members of society have escalated the importance of our work. I’ve been incredibly privileged working with Dorset LEP Skills and Advisory Panel and Board and am very grateful and thankful to everybody on the committee for their contributions and who have helped both me in my role as Chair, and, ultimately, the Dorset economy.

I am pleased to hand over the baton to Luke Rake, Principal of Kingston Maurward College, confident that all that we have achieved so far as a successful, experienced, diverse and knowledgeable panel will continue in strengthening much needed connections between employers and skills providers to address our region’s employment and skills challenges.

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