The future of skills and education in Bristol: a view from The Bristol Initiative’s Members

Sam Harrison
Marketing Executive | Business West
20th May 2024

Last week in the heart of the city at the Bristol Training Institute, formerly the headquarters of the Bristol Law Society, the Bristol Initiative held a roundtable discussion with members on the topic of skills and education, hosted by our Initiative Member, Weston College.

The Bristol Training Institute is a new foothold in Bristol for Weston College and the West of England Institute of Technology, having opened at the end of 2022. In an adjacent room, a poignant reminder of the global context was unfolding - Ukrainian refugees were being taught English, a testament to the adaptability and inclusivity of the education system.

The Challenges

In our Q1 Quarterly Economic Survey, 63% of respondents said they were having trouble recruiting, with a third of those respondents saying they struggled particularly with skilled technical roles and another third saying they couldn’t find the right managerial candidates.

Bristol is a young city, with a median age of 32, and for younger people the expectations around skills, recruitment and education have changed drastically. Industries like construction, which were once careers for life, are seeing people come and go at all stages of life. The priorities for young people are now transferrable skills, job mobility and progression and many employers are only starting to understand this. Apprenticeships have boomed in popularity amongst young people, but many employers are reticent to employ apprentices knowing they could take their training and skills elsewhere in a much shorter time frame than they used to.

We’re also seeing a very educated workforce in Bristol – one member noted that almost all their staff had degrees, but very few came to the role with any practical experience. With the now common timeframe to leave a role becoming 2-5 years, this means businesses are in many cases losing an experienced and knowledgeable member of staff that they are replacing with somebody with no on-the-job experience.

Our Members’ Solutions

One big takeaway from the event came from our hosts, Weston College, David Crew saying that businesses and skills providers need to be looking ahead to 10-15 years’ time, not just responding to their recruitment and skills needs now. 

Many members in the room talked about how their businesses had been working to acknowledge the changing nature of the workforce, leading to a shift in focus towards values-led recruitment and understanding what the future workforce wants. Several members noted that a strong social and ESG record for a business was incredibly important, with multiple candidates asking tough questions about social value and environmental impact even at the interview stage. This has led many Bristol employers to proudly advertise their social value, eschew greenwashing and appoint staff to specifically work towards being a responsible business.

Several innovative strategies to attract talent were discussed, including inclusive recruitment – something Bristol Initiative Member Babbasa is heavily involved in - internship programs, and creating a talent pool of young people. There’s also a focus on providing training and upskilling opportunities, especially in digital and leadership skills. Many members also noted that they were increasing the training and progression opportunities for all staff, no matter their level in the business, and assigning mandatory training at all levels to promote a wider understanding of new skills and technology.

The Next Steps for Skills

Helping our community face these challenges is Babbasa, a Bristol-based social enterprise. Babbasa is dedicated to supporting young people aged 16-25 in their professional aspirations, providing young people with the support, employability skills training, and career-oriented opportunities that they would otherwise be unable to access. They are also inclusive recruitment trainers, supporting local businesses to be as inclusive as possible in their hiring processes.

Our hosts, Weston College, are an award-winning institution providing education and vocational training to nearly 30,000 learners. Their courses cover a variety of subjects and are ideal for those looking to retrain, upskill, or progress on to university. They also work with businesses to deliver education and courses on the skills that they need, an essential for any business to retain and grow their teams.

You might also benefit from taking a look at our work on Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs). LSIPs are a crucial part of the government’s blueprint for reshaping the technical skills system to better meet the needs of employers and the wider economy. The West of England LSIP is led by Business West and funded by the Department for Education. We bring together employers, education, and training providers and other local stakeholders to set out the key priorities and changes needed in the area to ensure post-16 technical education and training prepares employees better for work.

If you are a Bristol Initiative Member and you would like to host your own roundtable like this one, on any topic that interests you or your business, please get in touch with Jenny Ablett

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