The new online directory was announced at the inaugural ‘Bridging the Skills Gap’ breakfast event, which took place at Taunton Rugby Football Club on 16th June. Over 50 business people attended the event, where they heard from Somerset Chamber representatives Neil Murphy and Natasha Braithwaite on the importance of addressing the skills issue and the functionality of the new directory. This was followed by a case study by Natasha Rand from Heathfield Community School on its proactive business engagement activity, after which the students’ perspective was presented by Kira Lewis of the UK Youth Parliament.
Neil Murphy, CEO of the Somerset Chamber, explained why it is vital for businesses and educational establishments in Somerset to work together to bridge the skills gap. “We have a population of about 538,000 people in Somerset, which is expected to grow by about 30,000 by the end of 2021, but we have a reducing population of 16-64 year olds, which are traditionally the working age people.
“Meanwhile we have a growing and vibrant economy, predicted to continue growing by around 2.4% per year over the next 5 to 10 years. Currently the county does not have a labour resource that can meet the demand of the local economy over the next 10 years and, what’s more, over 50% of Somerset employers are already telling us that they have been affected by the skills shortage over the past 12 months.”
The event was the first in a series that the Somerset Chamber will be holding to bring together schools, colleges and businesses across the county, with the aim of improving engagement and galvanising opportunities. Healthy debate proved the importance and relevance of the issue to employers and education providers alike, with further areas of particular interest to be covered in more detail at future events.
Use of the new Educational Engagement Directory will be free to Somerset Chamber members, who can register their educational interests and requirements, including apprenticeships and traineeships, work experience, mentoring, and giving workplace tours or talks to schools and colleges. Members can also search the directory by town, industry sector or interest to find opportunities and open dialogue with other businesses or educational establishments.
The Somerset Chamber of Commerce is one of only five accredited Chambers in the South West and 52 in the whole of the UK. It works closely with the British Chambers of Commerce to make sure Somerset businesses stay well connected at both a local and national level, and that the voices of the Somerset business community are heard at all levels of government.