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Tackling Swindon’s skills gap – Article by Andrew Wells, Initiative Manager at Business West

A recurring theme that Swindon businesses raise is the trouble they have recruiting highly skilled workers.

Whilst the local colleges and training providers are striving to deliver higher skills and improving each year, Swindon remains the only Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area in the country without a university campus, and it’s a concern that with ever increasing skills needs for business, Swindon will be left behind other areas.

This could have a detrimental affect on inward investment, business retention, talent recruitment and the potential to up-skill local residents.

To begin to tackle some of Swindon’s most problematic skills and training issues Business West and LEP-funded skills brokerage service Higher Futures met with the area’s major technology employers such as Nationwide, Appsbroker and Dialog Semiconductor.

The objective of the meeting was to gage business specific needs in the digital and high-tech sector, and to discuss how the new degree level apprenticeship and the apprenticeship levy could be utilised.

A number of businesses made a commitment to enrolling new recruits in degree level programmes, and agreed to work with one another on specific sets of degree level apprenticeships in Digital & Technology Solutions for Software Engineering.

The next step is to work with Higher Futures to keep the momentum going, by encouraging more businesses to participate and invite universities to tender for the opportunity to deliver local training to those businesses who have committed numbers of degree apprentices.

We are not ambitious in believing that, despite the commitments discussed so far, that as many as 30 software, embedded systems and cyber security degree apprenticeships could be delivered from as early as September.

If successful, this model of working with Higher Futures and business clusters to identify skills needs and then following up with regional universities to deliver locally could be replicated across a variety of different sectors in Swindon.

It could potentially create a snowball effect across the town, whereby businesses in need of highly skilled workers, and who want to maximise their opportunities with the apprenticeship levy, come onboard.

Since the meeting in April we’ve already received offers from a local college to provide teaching facilities as well as businesses interested in participating in future discussions.

The need for higher skilled workers in Swindon is obvious. While the debate continues for a high level approach from local senior decision makers in the town it’s fantastic to see initiatives such as Higher Futures taking a proactive approach to work with willing businesses to make some really progressive steps on the ground.

Down the road my hope is that these developments will lead to the creation of a University Campus in Swindon and help maximise the skill sets of those working in Swindon for generations to come

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Higher Futures is delivered by Wiltshire Council / Swindon Borough Council on behalf of Swindon and Wiltshire LEP.

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