Skills development and training has been identified as a priority for the West of England Recovery task force as the number of jobs advertised in the region in May dropped by a third.
The importance of jobs and training was discussed by taskforce members as they met this week, for the second time since the coronavirus outbreak. Led by Regional Mayor, Tim Bowles, the West of England Recovery Taskforce comprises of senior figures from industry, education and local government, working together on plans for the region’s recovery.
Regional data and evidence from businesses is informing the taskforce’s plans. In May 2020 there were 7,476 jobs advertised in the West of England, 34% lower than jobs advertised in May 2019 and 5.3% of the working population in the region were claiming unemployment benefit.
Regional Mayor Tim Bowles said: “Our economic recovery and renewal needs to have skills and training at its core. Whether that’s helping residents keep their jobs, find new opportunities or join the workforce for the first time. Our taskforce is already making sure that’s the case, identifying the opportunities for our key and important business sectors to emerge strongly from the pandemic.
“We have already expanded the Combined Authority’s existing Future Bright coaching and mentoring programme to those who have been impacted by the coronavirus crisis. Over the coming weeks we will be looking at other ways that we could help people with existing skills be redeployed into other industries that are experiencing greater demand.
“The data we are beginning to see emerge is giving us an indication of the scale of the challenge we will need to overcome, and I’m pleased to see the region pulling together to meet it head on.”
Joanne Rumley, a partner at Foot Anstey and Member of West of England Skills Advisory Panel said: “We need to think about how we support A-level leavers, further education and university graduates to access the jobs market. We should also look at coaching and wider support to help people who are mid-career understand more about the skills they have and how they can be adapted to suit other jobs. We must ensure diversity and inclusion is at the heart of our plans; we need to address inequalities.”
Andy Forbes, Principal, City of Bristol College, added: “Jobs and training are important at all stages of life but we may need to consider a slightly different approach to supporting graduates or those on apprenticeships, who are finding the labour market new and very baffling.”
The work of the taskforce covers three areas:
- backing skills and training – helping residents keep their jobs, or find training or new job opportunities;
- supporting business – keeping anchor employers here, helping entrepreneurs and innovators strike out on their own and develop new ideas, and selling the West of England to the world, to attract more jobs, businesses and talent.
- improving connections – supporting transport operators to get back on their feet – making sure we’ve got the sustainable transport corridors we need – and boosting digital infrastructure.
The taskforce discussed the importance of digital transformation to enable more businesses to operate online and the need to address issues with regional digital connectivity, improving access and rural connectivity. Earlier this month a new initiative, Trading Better On Line, was launched by the Combined Authority to give free support to small and medium sized businesses to help them to improve their web presence.
A meeting of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) Committee on Friday 19 June, agreed £5m to kick-start the early work of the new West of England Regional Economic Recovery task force. The taskforce will provide the evidence base for this work, which will focus on clean, inclusive and digitally-connected projects. This will be in addition to WECA’s ongoing support for business and skills, which includes sector-specific business support, skills and employment initiatives and work with councils to support businesses at a local level.
As of 7 June, 15,527 grants have been distributed by councils to regional businesses, amounting to £194.7 million across the West of England (Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire areas).
The taskforce reports to the West of England Combined Authority and the Local Enterprise Partnership. Its work covers Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire areas. It will put together a recovery action plan, which will set out what different partners can do to help the West of England recover – including central government, WECA, local councils and the private sector.