An extraordinary year of remarkable challenges and encouraging progress

Thought Leadership

An Autumn Update from Leigh Hughes Chair, CCR Regional Skills Partnership

2020 has been a year like no other. And in the first of a three-part Autumn Update, the Chair of the Regional Skills Partnership, Leigh Hughes, shares with us his own perspective on the challenges faced, and achievements secured, during the past few months of ‘the COVID economy’.

How has RSP continued to connect, collaborate and coordinate throughout the crisis, to help drive the upskilling and reskilling of South East Wales – and what are the key take-aways from the last two quarters?

“We’re still on course to deliver our Three-Year Priority Sector Plan.”

“The remarkable truth is that we’re still on a positive path to deliver our three- year Priority Sector Plan” says Leigh. “And that’s down to a huge effort from FE and HE, from employers and government, from funding organisations and training providers – all of whom have shown an incredible appetite to adapt and innovate at pace and with real agility.

“In fact, the overwhelming feedback from organisations of all sizes is that they see the COVID effect as a short-term thing. There’s a real positivity in the messaging that a vaccine should arrive by the spring, and while many companies are still in a ‘survival mode’, we’re also seeing a strong focus on business planning and business continuity.”

“Every sector and every company is experiencing different challenges and different opportunities.”

Leigh points out that a pandemic-hit South East Wales paints a complex picture, with the local economy characterised by a huge diversity of companies, each affected in different ways.

“Aviation and Automotive have clearly seen downturns, as flights and car sales have slowed to the minimum and the short-term conditions for those key markets are still unclear. Hospitality, obviously, has probably been hit hardest of all, so I’m relieved that we’ve been able to launch our Hospitality Forum, which at least gives this vital industry a voice in these worrying times.”

On a more positive note, some sectors have been stable – and many have even enjoyed significant growth:

“Food, Pharmacy and Engineering have all held up well; and the need for more Social Care has seen huge opportunities open up in that area. Construction, especially in the house-building market, has also continued to expand, though Brexit may affect growth in that industry. There’s a real upside in the number of companies who have transformed in this period.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fast-growing sunrise economy in South East Wales has provided some of the most impressive performances:

“The Compound Semiconductor ecosystem based around Newport has seen demand soar as the need for greater connectivity and bandwidth continues to rocket. In fact, some companies in that cluster have even reported record quarters” says Leigh. “And the feedback from the Cybersecurity and FinTech companies in our region is equally encouraging.”

Leigh is also keen to applaud the spirit of innovation and adaptation that’s been shown by employers who have reskilled and upskilled in the past few months.

“We’ve seen Gin & Whisky manufacturers becoming producers of hand sanitizer, the Royal Mint diversify to become a provider to the NHS; and engineering firms transform into world-leading PPE providers. That takes resilience, collaboration and a belief in the capabilities of people to grow new skills. Those are all the things we’ve been working hard to help facilitate, fund and embed.”

“Our remit has now moved far more towards identifying areas for transferable skills, early and expertly.”

Much of the work of the Regional Skills Partnership is largely ‘under the surface’, so how would Leigh characterise the workload over the past quarter?

 “In many ways we’re the glue in the design, development and structuring of skills programmes, as well as helping decide where those programmes should be located. So our bandwidth in 2020 has grown into a much larger remit to cater for transferable skills. Early identification is a key part of this, so the work we’re doing every day with colleges, companies, funding organisations and training providers is absolutely vital right now.

“There’s an array of programmes and initiatives out there. So we make sure companies get connected with the programme that’s right for them. It could be a programme funded by the Local Authority, the Welsh Government, the EU or the Department of Work & Pensions. The diverse expertise of our Board means we can give the best advice and guidance; and help make it happen.”

In the second part of our 3 part autumn update on the work of the Regional Skills Partnership, Leigh will scope the work being done to minimise the COVID impact on Apprenticeships in South East Wales.


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