Vibrant economy

Live Lab: skills and talent in the West of England

John Panteli John Panteli

On 1 March, the West of England’s leading businesses, charities and public sector institutions came together to imagine the region as home to world-class talent and skills. This was the West of England Live Lab.

Guests gathered at the At-Bristol Science Centre to share ideas and insight into how the West of England can do more to provide access to skills and allow talented people of all ages to fulfil their potential.

Grant Thornton UK Bristol Partner John Panteli kicked off the Live Lab by asking, “How can we educate, train, attract and retain the people with the skills this region needs to keep growing? How do we create the environment so that talent wants to live here? How do we ensure we have the jobs and the skills so that the West of England has the edge?”

Dreaming of a vibrant West of England

Spurred on by this call to action, guests spent the day discovering, dreaming and designing what the West of England could achieve. The event followed the appreciative inquiry approach: encouraging ideas that contribute to existing strengths, rather than a focus on challenges that may exist.

Guests spoke proudly of the vibrant foundations that exist in the West of England, but also talked candidly about where they saw possibilities to grow and improve.

Early in the day, a panel discussion that saw Aardman Animations co-founder David Sproxton CBE speak alongside the first black High Sheriff of Bristol, Peaches Golding, set the creative and optimistic tone of the event.

Encouraged to think outside the box, those in attendance presented initiatives including a summer school that caters to budding entrepreneurs, a ‘Wellbeing in the West’ brand for the region and the first ever official University of Life – based in the West of England.

The principal themes discussed during the day were:

Soft skills
Professional success in any sector rests on the quality of a person’s skills, both hard and soft. Guests mentioned that, too often, new hires do not possess the ‘soft’ skills that will see them succeed in their role. ‘People who leave education need to be fully equipped for the 21st century’, said one delegate. It was recommended that the public and private sectors work with educators to provide training and support around soft skills, such as leadership, resilience and teamwork.

Diversity of talent
There should be no barriers to employment or training opportunities if the West of England wants to achieve its potential. ‘The education system must work for all’, summed up one guest. School leavers should know they can directly enter the workforce, while experienced hires should know the full range of career options open to them, as well as the possibility of retraining later in life. Although their full impact is still unknown, apprenticeships were presented as one way to boost the diversity of the West of England’s talent pool.

Business and education
The worlds of commerce and education should communicate better. One guest called for every business in the West of England to be connected to a local school, while another said that, by 2027, the region should have a redesigned education system whereby primary and secondary levels involve enterprise and financial literacy. It was acknowledged that, while education is already embedded to a degree with the world of business in the West of England, the relationship can be developed. One suggestion was to give businesses a role in shaping the curriculum.

The ecosystem
Wider consideration must be paid to what attracts and retains talented people to any region. This sentiment was repeated regarding how the best skills can be provided and accessed. Guests agreed that consideration needs to paid to a range of factors: from mentoring and networking opportunities to the protection of green spaces and wildlife. ‘We must be mindful we have an environment where people can easily and happily gain the right skills – both soft and hard’, said one guest.

Grant Thornton Partner, Bristol and the South West, Tim Lincoln wrapped up the Live Lab by thanking those in the room for showing such energy and drive. Collecting different perspectives and seeing the world through the eyes of others, he said, was the key to achieving change. Tim talked about Grant Thornton’s determination to take the ideas provoked at the Live Lab and turn them into reality, and invited as many people as possible to get involved.

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