University leads £5.8 million project to drive up employee skills in Devon and Somerset

A consortium of education providers led by the University of Plymouth is launching a multi-million pound initiative to drive up employee skill levels across the South West of England.

Supported by a grant from the European Social Fund (ESF), the scheme involves 10 institutions working across Devon, Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay.

Its aim will be to improve participation for people of all ages who are currently the least likely to engage in higher level skills, boosting employee qualifications and addressing skill shortages among individuals and small/medium sized businesses across the region.

As well as the University of Plymouth, the project will involve Bridgwater & Taunton College, City College Plymouth, Exeter College, Petroc, Plymouth College of Art, South Devon College, Strode College, the University of Exeter and Yeovil College.

Together, they have been awarded more than £3.2 million of ESF monies (towards a total project fund of £5.8 million) to support a number of programmes designed to increase collaboration between further and higher education and business.

Project Manager Nigel Howells said:

“This group of projects is a real opportunity to work with small and medium-sized businesses in identifying the higher level skills gaps they face. Following on from that, the partners will be looking to develop training, or signpost existing provision, to meet those gaps and to work with individual participants in developing and delivering progression routes to higher level skills training.”

Chair of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, Steve Hindley CBE DL, said:

“The Heart of the South West area has some excellent educational institutions, so we’re very pleased that this grant has been awarded to help them collaborate with local businesses. This area has a relatively high level of employment, and businesses are experiencing skills shortages. This project brings together the needs of business as well as providing valuable training to those that need it, and will boost the economy as well as improving the career and earning prospects of local people.”

The collaboration, which runs until April 2020, will seek out innovative approaches to delivery and curriculum development and there will be a focus on identifying and addressing areas with limited provision.

These aims will be delivered in a variety of ways, but there will be a significant focus on Higher and Degree Apprenticeships, with many of the partners already working with industry to deliver the Government-backed initiatives.

In addition, partners will be seeking to improve employability prospects and reduce risk of drop out for those engaged in training at level four and above.

The University of Plymouth has previously received £1.5 million to fund an ongoing project in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, offering community/employer engagement, flexible training and enhanced learner support.

Professor Paul Brunt is the University’s Director of Academic Partnerships, the department taking the lead in delivering this latest project alongside the Research and Innovation Directorate. He said:

“This funding is a real boost for the University and its partners, but also the wider business community. It will enable us to continue our work to enhance skill levels and opportunities in our local communities, enabling employees to benefit from a university or college education where it may not otherwise be an option. But it could also fill genuine skills shortages at a time when small and medium sized businesses in particular are facing significant challenges in this regard.”

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Professor Paul Brunt, Director of Academic Partnerships

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