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Collaboration is key for the skills of tomorrow

With the number of businesses in County Durham growing consistently over the past 12 years, the future looks bright. But recent times have shown that companies need to be dynamic and adapt to ever-changing circumstances – ranging from a global pandemic to Brexit, supply chain issues and the ongoing energy crisis. Keeping up with these challenges – and the skills needed to adapt to them – is difficult. But by collaborating with key partners across County Durham, Business Durham is giving local companies the ability to evolve and be flexible when it comes to skills, recruitment and retention.


Hazel Sykes acts as skills lead in her business engagement and account manager role at Business Durham.

She is always looking for opportunities to connect businesses with universities, colleges, technology organisations and other education and training providers to enhance skills provision across County Durham.

Hazel [pictured, right] says: “The skills needed for today’s modern world are ever-changing, and businesses need to evolve quickly to adapt to, and incorporate, new technologies and working methods into their operations.

“It’s said that 85 per cent of the jobs of tomorrow may not yet exist.

“When you take that into account – and add to that the cost of training to learn and implement something new – it’s difficult for businesses to pre-empt their own skills needs.

“The challenge here is identifying – and quantifying – those needs, both now and up to five years in the future.

“It’s a case of being proactive rather than reactive, planning for the future so that these changes aren’t coming as a surprise.

“That’s where we can help.

“We work with businesses and education providers to ensure the next generation gets the training they need and is prepared to meet the emerging needs of tomorrow’s workforce.

“We can also provide data and insight from the wider marketplace and within growing sectors – creating a holistic, industry-led approach in which County Durham colleges, schools and universities are proactively meeting the skills needs identified within the local economy.”

Business Durham, with partners CPI and Durham University, secured the Community Renewal Fund (CRF) to deliver various projects.

The Business Durham team is using part of that fund to look at the skills landscape for emerging industries, including space, advanced manufacturing, materials and electronics, telecoms, digital and analytics (including data science and cybersecurity), as well as life sciences and healthcare.

This project aims to identify the skills needs for these sectors, and if there is any crossover in the qualifications or skillsets required.

By working closely with local businesses, Business Durham can identify the skills and qualifications they are looking for, identify the gaps and help to fill them, whether it’s connecting employers with local education or training providers to deliver a specific qualification, or help them engage with students at events and careers fairs.

Hazel’s predecessor Karen McParlin set the foundation for collaboration between businesses, training companies and education providers, playing an integral role in working with the Institute of Technology (IoT).

Consisting of further and higher education providers in the North East with research partners and industry leads, IoT aims to create a step change in higher-level technical education.

The IoT is employer-led, listening to the needs of the industry and meeting them with the necessary skills and qualifications.

Working collaboratively across further education, higher education and employer partnerships, the North East IoT has two main focus areas – construction and the built environment, and advanced manufacturing and engineering.

Each sector has a lead industry partner; the lead college in the North East is New College Durham, which has a large facility dedicated to IoT.

As IoTs are employer-led, they can react quickly to a particular area’s current and evolving technical skills needs.

They provide the skilled workforce employers need now and in the future, which is crucial to local, regional and national productivity growth.

In addition, IoTs can facilitate rewarding and higher-paid careers for local people, encouraging them to remain in the county.

The business engagement team also works closely with other education providers outside of IoT to maximise student engagement touchpoints across Durham – which is helpful for all businesses, from SMEs to larger blue-chip organisations where opportunities may not be visible to students.

This activity includes mapping out a calendar of activities with local universities and incorporating events such as STEM week at Durham University, where businesses can attend and engage with potential recruits.

Karen adds: “We have some brilliant workplaces on our doorstep, offering exciting careers with innovative companies.

“By working together, Business Durham is committed to planning for the future and ensuring businesses across County Durham continue to expand, recruit, grow their footprint and invest.”