Greater Manchester employers at heart of skills system that supports jobs and economic growth
Business leaders have hailed the central role of Greater Manchester employers in helping people gain the skills they need to get jobs in growing industries.
Greater Manchester’s long-term ambition is to create an integrated employment and skills system, bringing together businesses, education providers and residents to ensure the training on offer responds to areas where skills are needed and gives people a clear route to employment.
Recently the government published its Skills for Jobs White Paper, which sets out reforms it intends to make to national further education, including measures to bring employers and business groups closer to education providers. In Greater Manchester employers already play a significant role, with a range of programmes that invite their insights and empower them to shape the city-region’s talent pipeline.
The reforms offer Greater Manchester a further opportunity to build on its ambitions and bring together education providers, further education, higher education and Jobcentre Plus to translate what employers need and develop programmes accordingly.
The University of Salford’s Fast Track Digital Data Academy, launched in October last year, is a recent example.
The free course is funded by the Fast Track Digital Workforce Fund through the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), and is being delivered by the University of Salford. A consortium of major employers in the region have helped to design the course’s content, including Bupa and Salford City Council as lead employers, and TalkTalk and the BBC as employer partners.
Lou Cordwell, chair of Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership (GM LEP), said: “In Greater Manchester we recognise that businesses have a crucial role to play in our skills system. They can signpost the skills gaps, ensure the content of courses is relevant and give people a clear pathway to employment.
“The projects supported under the Fast Track programme show how this approach can work for the benefit of all. They offer people an opportunity to upskill or reskill in a field where employment prospects are strong, such as data analysis and cloud engineering.
“The World Economic Forum predicts a ‘reskilling emergency’ playing out over the next decade. We need to be ready to respond, and that is why our Economic Vision calls for an integrated pipeline for talent, skills and progression.”
Katie Dwyer, of Salford, applied for the Fast Track Digital Data Academy after taking voluntary redundancy from her job as a customer experience manager in retail. She is now developing skills in data analysis and hopes to secure a job as a business analyst upon completing the course in March.
Katie said: “What the course does really well is provide realistic expectations of what an employer would want. They make it tangible and advise how to adapt your skills into whatever career you choose, so these skills can be transferred into whatever area of data you want to work in.
“Another big positive is everyone gets a personal mentor who works for a company like Bupa or TalkTalk. Most of the learners haven’t had a career in data, so a mentor can help with things like identifying goals, CV writing and interview tips.”
Bupa, which employs more than 2,000 people in Salford, is contributing to the programme to put value back into the community while also addressing an important skills gap.
Wayne Close, general manager for health services at Bupa, said: “As an employer, if we identify talent gaps within our business, and have a conversation with universities and skills providers, we can then develop courses which are as relevant as possible to our current business needs. A great example of that is the Digital Data Academy.
“Because of the nature and speed of economic change, you’re not going to be educated for a career that goes on until you retire. You’re going to have to retrain, and further and higher education is going to have to change to support that, and employers will need to be involved.”
Lynne Mccadden, project manager at the University of Salford, described the process as a positive learning curve for the university, employers and learners alike. The input of employers in designing the course, providing mentors and offering masterclasses to students has been “invaluable”.
She added: “Designing a 20-week course for a completely unique cohort of learners has been very fulfilling for the university, while for employers it has opened up new partnerships with a learning provider that they’ve never worked with before.
“This type of course has been designed by industry and therefore provides the up-to-the-minute skills needed in today’s workplace. Going forward the strength demonstrated by a consortium of Salford industries, coupled with higher education, has built a strong platform for future collaboration and is a significant and extremely positive outcome of this initiative.”
Cllr Sean Fielding, GMCA portfolio lead for employment, skills and digital, said: “Greater Manchester is setting an example, recognising our skills system must respond to the needs of our residents and our businesses at all levels and in all sectors.
“Whether it’s a young person first entering the workforce, or a person who finds themselves needing to upskill or reskill for the post-Covid economy, we need to ensure the courses and qualifications on offer are relevant to the city-region’s labour market.
“Putting employers at the heart has always been part of the role of the Employment and Skills Advisory Panel and we will continue to ensure strong relationships between employers, education, further education and higher education providers, as well as Jobcentre Plus.
“The approach also allows us to identify growth areas which are also aligned with our Local Industrial Strategy – for example, higher level skills in digital, or upskilling tradespeople to retrofit green technologies to buildings.”