One of the biggest challenges facing colleges and training providers is ensuring that their programmes and qualifications meet the skills needs of local employers. Yet bringing enough employers and their local colleges together is not always straightforward. Black Country Skills Factory Director Colin Parker is leading a programme designed to ensure employers have the skills programmes they need and to help training providers understand more fully where the skills requirements are.

The Black Country is an area northwest of Birmingham, stretching from Wolverhampton to Walsall, and was at the heart of the British Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century. It remains home for many small businesses as well as some larger ones.  

As with many innovations, the most successful are often the most straightforward. The challenge for many Black Country companies is that they are too small to establish their own comprehensive training programmes that give their staff the skills they need to be successful.

What is the Black Country Skills Factory?

The Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership was established to enable businesses to flourish in the area. It comprises employers, colleges, universities and local elected councils. The Skills Factory is one of its initiatives, aimed at addressing skills shortages in five priority areas:

  • Advance manufacturing (HVM) including food and drink
  • Transport technologies, including aerospace
  • Construction, including building technologies
  • Environmental technologies
  • Business services.

Put simply, this is an opportunity for employers to work together so they can take advantage of the economies of scale – courses are cost-effective because groups of businesses can provide sufficient numbers while they could not do this on their own. Thus, they are able to broker up-skilling training courses in the region as well as being able to give independent advice on apprenticeship providers and funding.

What does the Skills Factory do?

The main strands of the Factory include:

1. Up-skilling the existing workforce

The Skills Factory works with local training providers and colleges to offer an extensive programme of bite-sized upskilling courses in a wide range of technical skills as well as accredited management and leadership bite-sized training specifically tailored for the sector.  

They also point suitable candidates to the two-year accelerated Manufacturing Engineering degree delivered by the University of Wolverhampton.

2. Increasing the number of small and medium sized enterprises taking engineering-based apprentices

The Skills Factory supports employers looking to take on apprentices by offering impartial advice and information which enables it to point businesses towards appropriate local colleges or training providers based on their needs. 

3. Schools’ engagement with business

The Skills Factory manages two programmes linking business and schools, one of which is the Enterprise Adviser Network, which coordinates a network of experienced, volunteer business advisers with secondary schools across the Black Country. The aim is to help schools better understand and access business as part of their Careers Education, Advice and Guidance for pupils. 

The Skills Factory also aims to increase the number of young people wishing to consider high value manufacturing as a career choice by changing their view of the manufacturing sector and informing them of the career opportunities available through its innovative Manufacture your Future career resources.

A Logical Solution

While the Skills Factory receives support from the Local Enterprise Partnership and can broker subsidised training programmes, it is not a training provider. Its strength is in getting its partners to work together and to ensure that the programmes offered by colleges, private training providers and universities are relevant to the needs of local employers. It demonstrates that if you can get employers and training providers together, much can be achieved.

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