Director of Swindon and Wiltshire LEP, Paddy Bradley tells us why the skill levels of the current and future workforce are crucial in determining whether a business will look to invest in a new base in an area
The skill levels of the current and future workforce are crucial factors in determining whether a business will look to invest in a new base in an area. The Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership covers the geography of the County of Wiltshire and is home to a number of globally renowned businesses who have chosen our area to establish their UK bases. Honda of the UK Manufacturing Ltd (HUM), is based in Swindon. It is the only Honda plant in the world to produce the Civic in all its variations and it does so at the rate of 600 a day, about one car every 90 seconds.
On its website, HUM identifies why it moved to Swindon in 1985: “Excellent people to begin with. A workforce that made Swindon the manufacturing centre of the Great Western Railway – and set the standard for excellence in engineering. There’s also an outstanding infrastructure and first-rate communications links…” The existence of a greenfield site, perfect for their needs is also a reason but comes third behind the skills of the workforce and good connectivity.
A highly-skilled and adaptive workforce is at the heart of any area’s inward investment offer. As the UK leaves the European Union and anti-globalisation political philosophies begin to take hold in some countries, the UK and its constituent regions need to raise its competitive game. Ensuring we have true demand-led skills provision is the best way to improve our productivity and make an area such as Swindon and Wiltshire an attractive investment proposition. The focus needs to be on foreign direct investment, but there is competition between the regions and what attracts businesses from outside the UK, will also draw businesses from one part of the country to another.
New markets, transforming technologies and disruptor businesses demand a workforce with the skills required by a business need. This challenge is beginning to be met at a national level by the move from the vagaries of apprenticeship frameworks to the more tightly defined, industry-led apprenticeship standards, which place employers at the forefront of policy formation. The Department for Education (DfE) recently announced its £170 million scheme to develop between 10 and 15 Institutes of Technology (IoT) which aim to develop technical excellence amongst learners to degree level. In a very good move, the DfE stipulated that anchor employers must be identified for each IoT and those employers must be at the forefront of leadership and governance of the new institution.
The Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership is a strong supporter of this direction of travel set by central government. At a local level, we have been championing demand-led skills provision since 2014, when we achieved a deal with the government to help us develop degree-level skills provision determined by the requirements of our local businesses. Currently, through our Higher Futures programme, we are working with 109 businesses across multiple sectors. We are now widening the scope of the programme to embed it fully in our Growth Hub (www.growthhub.swlep.co.uk) to act as a triage service for all skills support.
Swindon and Wiltshire is an area of demographic and industrial growth. We need skilled personnel to design and build the housing, industrial and commercial developments and road infrastructure to meet growing demand. SERCO has responded to our strategy for the use of European funding to win £4 million from our allocation to stimulate growth by working with 82 local businesses in the construction sector and train 503 learners in qualifications up to degree level.
One in three businesses in Swindon, North Wiltshire and south-east Gloucestershire, face the challenge of meeting a current or imminent skills gap. This is not unusual across the UK. We have responded to the call for IoT bids by working with colleagues from the Gfirst LEP in Gloucestershire and two local authorities, five local further education colleges and regional universities and eight key local businesses to submit a strong application based on the development of science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills.
We are proud of our partnership working and regardless of the outcome of the bid, we will use the ideas and mutually beneficial relationships to continuously improve our degree-level skills provision. We are a market-orientated organisation and, lacking the presence of a large higher education institution in our area, we are beginning to tackle the challenge by coordinating demand to improve supply.
There is a fundamental economic need at the core of this work. Engineering and advanced manufacturing and IT are amongst the most productive sectors in our area. To maintain that productivity and competitive advantage, 80% of jobs in engineering and manufacturing and 70% in IT will be at degree level or higher.
We have ambitious plans for our area and seek to achieve our growth trajectory by collaborating with partners who share our vision of employers in the driving seat, determining skills provision in our area. We are open to new ideas to help deliver the high-skill workforce of the mid-21st century.
If this has got your attention and you would like to discover more, please contact:
Mandy Timbrell, Higher Futures Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org) or;
Phil Clement, Head of Investment and Export (email@example.com).
Please note: this is a commercial profile
Swindon and Wiltshire LEP