Shropshire Chamber of Commerce has published the findings from the first phase of its Local Skills Improvement Plan project – designed to gain a better understanding of the area’s skills and training requirements.

The stage one report outlines a series of ‘quick wins’ which could be achieved over the coming months to boost upskilling and knowledge sharing, and paints a comprehensive picture of current training provision across the area.

Hundreds of local businesses contributed to the first stage of the research, which has now been officially signed off by Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan.

The Marches LSIP project is being led locally by Shropshire Chamber, and is targeting specific sectors across the including engineering, manufacturing, professional services, construction, environmental technologies, and health & social care.

The aim is to help post-16 education providers and other public sector bodies across the Marches – Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and Herefordshire - to ensure that the voice of employers is at the forefront when planning skills training.

Richard Sheehan, LSIP project director, said: “The Government’s Skills for Jobs White Paper has put employers firmly at the core of the skills agenda for post-16 education - a stance welcomed by the business world.

“With productivity sluggish and the economy still damaged by Covid and other world events, it now requires an even greater push to ensure that skills needs are met.

“The Marches LSIP project is giving us that extra strength; enabling us to unpack ambition and opportunity, for current employees, prospective employees, and employers whose businesses provide wealth, employment, and opportunity to the Marches”

Reflecting on the first stage of the report, Mr Sheehan added: “We have a wide range of provision within the Marches already striving to ensure they meet skills shortages. With the strong stakeholder collaborative culture already embedded it allows us to willingly agree to work even more closely, openly, honestly, and productively to embrace the opportunities the LSIP project offers.

“Change takes time, but even in stage one we clearly saw the appetite from businesses to get involved, to give their honest opinions and to willingly to work with the LSIP stakeholders to ensure that everyone is focused on the same goal.

“Many business/provider relationships already exist and work well; LSIP gives us the opportunity to increase those relationships, broaden the voice greatly and strengthen current relationships.

“Barriers that hinder unnecessarily but can easily be removed through a collective willingness. Our one objective is to ensure that The Marches, grows, prospers, innovates; to achieve that we will ensure, collectively, that we continue to harness the power of the employer’s voice.”

Among the ‘quick wins’ the report suggests is the effective use of Local Skills Improvement Fund cash – not restricted to a single project, but spread across a variety of projects involving a collective of training providers.

“Other funding streams or employers self-funding would help support fast and vital upskilling, whilst not requiring current staff to be away from the businesses for long periods,” the report says.

“Though the larger employers will have bulk training requirements, there is also a significant number of SME employers and they cannot not always create viable cohorts for larger providers but can be amply served by small providers or innovative delivery methods.”

Marches LSIP project officer Rosie Beswick said: “Shropshire Chamber would like to thank the businesses who supported the research during this first stage – without them, this report could not have been written.

“More than 450 businesses across the Marches gave their time, insights, and views to the researchers to ensure that the employer’s voice was heard.

“As we move into phase two of the project the Chamber will ensure that employers have access to providers so they can support each other to ensure the skills needed are the skills that are being trained for.

“This project will also help to support those giving careers advice and help signpost employers to the vast array of local providers who can support their staff development.

“The end goal is to ensure that employers can find the skills they need, that training is understood and focused, and that the Marches businesses can prosper and grow for the benefit of all.”