College hosts Skills Summit to respond to the needs of local businesses

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South Devon College recently hosted an employer-focused Skills Summit. The aim was to engage with local and regional employers in a collaborative approach to develop the skills they need to drive growth, now and in the future.

Around 50 delegates attended from organisations including Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, Willmott Dixon, Cosmic and Wollens. They were joined by guest speakers from the South West Business Council, Heart of the South West LEP, Devon & Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, TDA, Tech South West, Torbay Business Forum and the South West Apprenticeship Ambassador Network.

The key themes for development which emerged from the collective discussion included: sustainability (green skills), clean and blue skills, digital skills development, employability ‘soft’ skills, and supporting and positively influencing young people.

The first of the guest speakers Paul Coles, CEO of the South West Business Council, spoke of the growing sectors within the region, the emerging skill requirements and what is happening in the South West to drive it forward.

Paul said: “There’s upcoming opportunities for environmental expertise whether it’s blue or green skills; autonomous marine, environmental science and data management. We have one of the world’s biospheres here in Devon, 1 of 4 in England and 1 of 7 in the UK, and that is doing a tremendous amount of work around how we can instrument, monitor and gain important data and manage it in a better way.”

David Ralph from Heart of the South West LEP spoke about how the responsibility for skills gaps is devolving to be the responsibility of local people, businesses and education providers.

“I think the approach is the right one, as I believe that local areas understand their needs and opportunities better and they should be given more power to try and connect those things together. This being run in Whitehall doesn’t make sense when they don’t understand our local patch, so the principle of that coming down to a local level is to be supported. The principles of this are great providing that local business and local FE providers are engaged in the process.”

Maureen Gori De Murden, Business Manager at Willmott Dixon, has worked with the College for many years, and has seen the benefit of a collaborative approach to developing curriculum that develops the skills local employers need:

“It’s important to engage with the College early so that you get the right people when a job comes along. Long before we’ve even started bidding for a job to be created, we start talking to the College and they’ve always been responsive and flexible to tailoring the courses to the careers and what we’re looking to do. Even if we don’t succeed in the bidding for that job, there’ll be other companies that are and then those foundations are already in place to generate those skills.”

Stuart Elford, Chief Executive at Devon and Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, discussed their position in developing local skills and what more can be done to ensure that people in education are being prepared for jobs that are out there and are needed.

“The Devon and Plymouth Chamber has been designated by the Department for Education as the Employer Representative Body to deliver the Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) for the South West. In essence, the LSIP is the government saying the voice of the employer must be front and centre in future skills planning. It’s not to say colleges and training providers haven’t been doing that but I think a lot of the time it naturally supports larger employers when the LSIP is now calling to
support all employers and all sectors.”

Dan Pritchard from Tech South West shed light on the average size of tech businesses in the South West and their capacity to become part of this wider economic strategy whilst continuing to deliver the service of their business.

He said: “We’re telling tech companies go and walk into your local college and find someone to talk to and put your trust in young people. But we’ve got to work harder at the local level. The average size of tech companies in the South West is 9.6 people, so even people in leadership roles in a company that size are still very client facing and need more offered up that they can take advantage of easily.”

Laurence Frewin, Principal and CEO of South Devon College, said: “The attendance of so many showed the real commitment that local employers have for developing training and supporting the growth of our future talent and workforce. Conversations were flowing on all tables and many excellent points were raised. We are keen to hold future Skills Summits with the aim of continuing these conversations and how the conversations, suggestions and insights have shaped our curriculum strategy and development.”

South Devon College run Industry Liaison events throughout the year which are smaller, sector- specific opportunities to connect with businesses to drive curriculum development. Coming up are two Industry Liaison events: Wednesday 2nd November for the Hospitality and Management sector, and Wednesday 30th November for the Digital sector. To find out more, contact South Devon College’s Business Solutions team on 01803 540823 or email [email protected].

The next Skills Summit will take place on Wednesday 18th October 2023.


L-R: Dan Pritchard – Tech SW, Paul Coles – SWBC, Carl Wyard – TDA, David Ralph – HoTSW LEP, Emily Pearson- South Devon College, Stuart Elford – Devon and Plymouth Chamber, Kate Doodson – Cosmic, Steve Reynolds Torbay Business Forum, Jim Parker – Torbay Weekly, Nigel Fenn – Pennon and Chair of the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network, Laurence Frewin – South Devon College.