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South Yorkshire Chambers Unite To Call For Mayor-Led Transformation Of Region’s Skills Sector

Business leaders from across South Yorkshire will join forces today (Friday) to call for the region’s new Mayor to urgently tackle skills shortages that are holding the region back.

The three South Yorkshire Chambers (Sheffield, Barnsley & Rotherham and Doncaster) will make the call ahead of a Mayoral Hustings event taking place at Doncaster UTC.

A new Skills Manifesto has also been jointly produced by the Chambers, outlining the acute skills shortages facing the region’s businesses and the challenge of fragmented Government funding which has led to too many skills providers working at cross purposes.

The Manifesto includes 40 practical recommendations for a more agile and responsive skills system in South Yorkshire which drives opportunity, productivity, and wages. It also calls on the county’s businesses to step up and get involved.

The new Mayor will be challenged to develop a new Skills Strategy for the region within 100 days of taking office and business leaders want the new Mayor to lobby Government for further devolution of powers and resources to impact skills policy.

The joint call comes after a hugely successful pilot over the past year. South Yorkshire was one of eight national trailblazers rolling out new Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIP) on behalf of the Department for Education.  

The Chambers consulted hundreds of businesses as part of the project and worked in tandem with other business organisations including the CBI, FSB, Manufacturing Forum, and Sheffield Digital. Strong partnerships were also forged with those in the broader skills community, including the public sector, colleges, Higher Education Institutions, and private providers.  

Chief Executive of Doncaster Chamber Dan Fell said: “Workplace skills is the single biggest challenge facing South Yorkshire’s economy and residents. 

“Skills drive productivity and wages and the average output of workers in South Yorkshire is around 20% lower than for the UK – a gap that hasn’t narrowed in nearly 20 years. 

“Our region underperforms the UK on most indicators of employee skills, and this is borne out by the fact that South Yorkshire businesses are facing record skills shortages.

“If the output of South Yorkshire’s workers equalled England’s average, the region’s economy (GVA) would be £7.2bn bigger.

“We’ve learned a great deal during the pilot and have included our findings and recommendations in the Manifesto. 

“A growing number of policy levers to affect the changes required are held by the Mayor. Some are at national level, but we have demonstrated during the pilot phase that when businesses, providers and industry bodies work collaboratively we can get to the heart of issues which are holding our region back from achieving its full potential.”

Andrew Denniff, Chief Executive of Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber, added: “Employers have told us they want to get involved in developing curriculums, programmes, and qualifications but there’s a gap in what they say and how involved they are. This needs to change. There needs to be a better and responsive digital platform connecting people, business needs, training, and opportunities.

“If the share of South Yorkshire’s population with higher-level qualifications matched England’s, an extra 49,000 people would be qualified to NVQ level 4 or above in our region.”

The Chambers are using the Manifesto launch to call on Government to pilot in South Yorkshire a new cash grant award scheme to incentivise employer engagement on skills with schools, colleges and universities. 

“The region must put the business-facing engagement of skills and trade bodies piloted in the LSIP onto a permanent footing with an ongoing, funded programme of activity,” added Mr Denniff.

“We have got to fix our skills system and better connect employers and residents to training opportunities and that’s one of the reasons we’re also proposing an Apprenticeship Hub service which would link people and businesses to apprenticeship opportunities, share best practice and publicise successes.”

Karen Mosley, Chair of the Skills Accelerator Board and Sheffield Chamber President, said: “We must release the hidden workforce potential in our communities and that’s why we’re calling on whoever is elected as Mayor in early May to put the skills agenda front and centre. 

“Throughout the LSIP pilot, all partners have demonstrated a strong will to work together to bring about change. With the right policies, resources, and political leadership we can address inequality and ensure South Yorkshire is known nationally as a region that ‘gets business’ and that is both enterprise and investment-ready.”

South Yorkshire Chambers of Commerce will publish their full manifesto and detailed recommendations in May.

For more information visit: www.brchamber.co.uk, www.doncaster-chamber.co.uk, www.scci.org.uk, or access the Local Skills Improvement Plan, and the research and data that underpin it online: www.sy-skillsaccelerator.co.uk/resources

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