Weston College is tackling the regional skills shortage head-on

Two-thirds of business leaders in Britain don’t believe they will be able to find enough skilled people to fill job vacancies in the coming years.

This startling figure – from a recent CBI survey – highlights the scale of the challenge to address skills shortages in numerous sectors. To fill these skills gaps, it’s essential that education providers work closely with employers to understand their needs and create a workforce that will enable them to compete in the years ahead.

Weston College’s Principal and Chief Executive Dr Paul Phillips CBE, commented: “Providing work-focussed education is one of our top priorities, which is why we’re due to open two new state-of-the-art training centres in spring 2019.

“The multi-million Health and Active Living Skills Centre, based at our Loxton Campus, is the result of our work with the NHS and other healthcare employers, which has identified increasing skills shortages that could lead to a recruitment crisis.

“It will enable young people and adults to gain the skills they need to enter healthcare professions, as well as allowing local and regional employers to develop the skills of existing staff.

“Also, the £3.8 million Construction Training Centre – based just off Junction 21 of the M5 – is designed to tackle the regional skills shortage head on.”

The College has devised this innovative centre to offer training in three key construction areas – scaffolding, plant operations and groundworks – training has been selected and designed with employers’ needs in mind and in response to the growing demand for a trained and skilled construction workforce in the region.

Dr Phillips commented: “What makes this project unique is that it’ll provide training at the point of need for whoever needs it – rather than fitting it into the academic year for school leavers. This means employers can come to us at any time for short courses, top-up courses and to up-skill staff who are taking on new roles.”

The above investments has been made possible by the College match-funding a successful bid for funding of £5.4m from the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) through the Local Growth Fund, administered by the West of England Combined Authority.

Professor Steve West, Chair of the West of England LEP, says: “We’re very pleased to support these ambitious projects that will deliver important investment in the skills that businesses in the West of England need.

“As a region we need to work together to improve the quality and relevance of work-focussed education, and provide clearer routes into sustainable and rewarding careers for our residents. As well as giving people the skills they need to progress further in their education and training to secure better career prospects, this will also help lead to improved employment opportunities for our region’s businesses in the future.”

Preparing learners for the workplace has been a focus of Weston College for many years, with existing facilities aiming to mimic real-life workplaces.

Some operate as commercial businesses – such as the Hair and Beauty Centre and The Grove Restaurant – which have both been recently refurbished to provide the very latest resources learning environment. The College strongly believes that working with ‘real’ customers provides an invaluable way for its learners to develop vital transferrable skills, like teamwork and communication, as well as their sector specific skills.

Dr Phillips said: “Our learners also benefit teaching staff who are experts in their field and, in many cases, are still working in their trades. They work with employers to develop a curriculum, which reflects local and national trends in terms of employment, which is particularly apparent in our apprenticeship provision.”

A prime example of this approach is the recently launched ‘School of Food’ – a new chef apprenticeship jointly delivered by Weston College.

The School of Food is a unique training course, run by chefs for chefs and designed to tackle the local skills shortage. It’s the idea of renowned local chefs, Josh Eggleton and Adrian Kirikmaa, who teamed up with Weston College, St Katherine’s School and Ashton Gate Stadium to deliver the 12-month-course.