Briefing paper – Inspiring future careers and the state of skills in Devon

The information in this briefing covers the work that has recently been undertaken by the Economy and Enterprise Team at Devon County Council. This includes:

  • the latest iteration of the ‘State of Skills in Devon’ report
  • the latest news on our Enterprise in Schools Grant
  • our support of the Skills Show Experience, an event focused on inspiring and informing Devon’s young people about the promising career opportunities available to them.


State of Skills in Devon

The ‘Workforce Skills Research Programme’ commissioned by Devon County Council and led by SERIO based at Plymouth University aims to support the Council’s Employment and Skills Action Plan by identifying the challenges and issues businesses face in relation to skills in the region.

Through research into current state of skills in Devon and business needs, Devon County Council if helping businesses make informed decisions and keep the regional economy growing.

The key findings from the second annual Workforce Skills Survey, which took place between June and August 2014, and was conducted by SERIO include:

Business Characteristics and Experience of Training: Levels of innovation amongst businesses were found to mirror the 2013 sample, with two-in-five respondents (43%) having engaged in innovation activities in the past three years. This predominantly related to the introduction of a new or significantly improved good, service or process (24% of all businesses), or expenditure in areas such as internal research and development or the acquisition of external knowledge or machinery and equipment (17%).

Businesses were open to training with three-quarters (76%) having accessed some sort of professional help or support for their business in the past three years. However, just one fifth (20%) had a dedicated training budget to meet training needs and support development.

Employee Retention, Skills and Qualifications: Fewer businesses experienced difficulties in the retention of their employees (4% compared to 10% in 2013), commonly attributed to the requirements of the job and limited opportunity for career progression. Similarly to the 2013 survey, businesses in the occupational group of skilled trade were more likely to experience problems.

Looking forward over the next three years, (and reflecting findings from the 2013 survey) the biggest skills-related challenges were perceived to be appropriate recruitment (specifically recruiting staff with the skills or experience required by the business); and keeping up with the pace of technology and ICT development. Of note is that just 12% of businesses stated they did not need any digital skills, compared with 28% twelve months ago suggesting the increasing importance of this skillset.

Assessing Supply and Demand: Three-in-five businesses (60%) had funded or arranged staff development activities for their employees over the 12 months preceding the survey. This is broadly in line with levels from 2013 (65%). Whilst businesses favoured off-site training provided by an external organisation (76%); onsite training delivered through both existing staff (63%) and an external organisation (60%) were also commonplace.

Approximately three-quarters of businesses (74%) anticipated the amount of money they spend on training to stay the same over the next 12 months, in contrast to 14% who anticipated an increase, 3% who expected a decrease, and 9% who were undecided. Those highlighting a likely reduction in spend attributed it to employees either having recently undertaken or completed training; a contraction in overall business size; and financial cuts or potential closure.

Recruitment: Of the businesses that had vacancies in the last 12 months, almost two-fifths (37%) experienced difficulty in filling them. This compares to 34% experiencing difficulties from the 2013 survey. For 50% of businesses, that was on account of a lack of suitably skilled applicants, whilst for 28% this was due to a lack of suitably qualified applicants.

Similarly to the position in 2013, the survey found low levels of employment for those in their first job since leaving education. Over the last three years, 24% of businesses had employed someone in their first job since leaving school (compared to 32% in 2013), 24% since leaving a further education college, and just 17% since leaving university (compared to 31% and 22% in 2013 respectively). With specific regard to apprenticeships, a fifth of businesses (21%) had employed staff undertaking apprenticeships over the last three years, with the largest proportion of these based within the broad industry groups of construction; agriculture; and wholesale and retail.

Cross-cutting Themes and Recommendations: The report presents three cross-cutting themes emerging from the Workforce Skills Survey and suggests some early recommendations that could be considered by Devon County Council, relevant partners and stakeholders. Some themes and recommendations build upon those cited in the 2013 Workforce Skills Report, reflecting the parallels between the two surveys. These are summarised below:

Theme 1 – Engagement with Young People and Apprenticeships: Similarly to 2013, whilst there is still work to be done to promote the business benefits of young people and early career starters to businesses in Devon, the survey suggests that businesses also need to know more about the practical implications of further engaging with this group. Secondly, there is an opportunity for schools and colleges to increasingly work with businesses to promote engagement opportunities. In support of these issues it is recommended that:

  • work is undertaken to ensure that businesses are made aware of the practical implications of engagement through the distribution of coherent and consistent information
  • partners and stakeholders ensure that opportunities for engagement with schools and colleges are made accessible to the business community through an increasingly proactive approach.

Theme 2 – The Digital Skills Challenge: There are a number of existing support programmes for businesses in Devon to improve their ICT skills and knowledge. For example, the ‘Get up to Speed’ support programme run by Connecting Devon and Somerset which offers information locally through events, workshops and other community support activities, allowing businesses and residents to fully harness the benefits of current or future high-speed broadband.

A number of relevant complimentary national initiatives are also accessible to SMEs in Devon, such as Go ON UK, run in partnership with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), which ensures that small businesses have the opportunity and ability to build their basic online skills and presence. In order to support the digital skills challenge it is recommended that:

  • initiatives to further promote and signpost businesses toward support for digital skills development are considered, linked to national initiatives as appropriate.

Theme 3 – Vacancies, Retention, and Employment of Career Starters: The survey revealed that businesses are still experiencing problems in sourcing the right calibre of applicant from the labour market, with the skills-set available amongst jobseekers not matching their business needs. As such, and as outlined in the 2013 report, it is recommended that:

  • a clear process is developed to articulate business needs to providers and funding agencies to ensure that provision is needs-led.

The ability of the county to retain its graduate population is an important factor in determining the quality of its labour force. However, retention is limited by both a business reluctance to employ graduates, and high levels of retention in the existing labour force. As such, it is recommended that:

  • partners and stakeholders consider how to promote and articulate the business benefits of employing career starters to address cultural and knowledge barriers, particularly in relation to the skills and attributes offered by the graduate market.

Please see the following link to view the full second annual Workforce Skills Survey report.

Enterprise in Schools Grant

Devon County Council’s Enterprise in Schools Grant programme is designed to help Devon’s schools create or expand educational opportunities within the areas of enterprise and innovation for both pupils and staff.

As the ‘Enterprise for All’ report from Lord Young clearly demonstrates, our education system and career advice needs to adapt to the changing pattern of work that the next generation of Devon’s young people will face as they leave education and training.

Young people are now far more likely to have multiple careers with various employers, ranging from global multinationals to small and micro-employers. The most striking difference in the patterns of work that the next generation will face is that they are more likely than ever before to run their own businesses. We have witnessed a staggering rise over the last ten years in self-employment, which has now reached 4.6 million. To put this into context, self-employment has contributed nearly half of the 780,000 new jobs created in our economy over the last year.

The Enterprise in Schools Grant programme is about enabling schools to provide a better balance between education and skills for employment and aims to equip young people with the motivation and confidence to work for themselves. Enterprise is about more than the creation of entrepreneurs; it is about a can-do and positive attitude and equipping people with the confidence to develop a career and vocational interests. Enterprise, therefore, supports the development of a wide range of work and professional skills and capabilities. These include resilience, risk taking, creativity and innovation, as well as a self-belief that starting a business is a viable career choice and one of the most exciting and challenging things a person will ever do.

Devon County Council has allocated £113,000 worth of funding to state-funded Secondary Schools and for Year 6 of Primary Schools across Devon through its Enterprise in Schools Grant programme. The following schools have benefitted from funding:

  • King Edward VI Community College – Totnes
  • Exmouth Community College
  • The King’s School – Ottery St. Mary
  • St James School – Exeter
  • West Exe School – Exeter
  • Ilfracombe Academy
  • South Molton Community College
  • Tavistock College
  • NORDAB – Northern Devon Academic Board Consortium (led by Great Torrington School and bringing together nine state secondary schools across North Devon & Torridge)

The impact of the Enterprise in Schools Grant funding can be illustrated by taking the example of Ilfracombe Academy who were awarded £10,000. This will enable them to deliver against their ambition of providing pupils at the school, and within the wider learning community, the opportunity to develop ‘Engineering Entrepreneurialism’.

The project aims to develop amongst students an enduring enthusiasm and practical aptitude for innovative engineering to meet the needs of local manufacturing and support the longer economic vitality of the area. This will be achieved by hosting the nationally recognised ‘Bloodhound’ supersonic ‘STEM’ event for one week in spring 2015.

Ilfracombe Academy Deputy Headteacher Tony Tucker who prepared the bid for the Enterprise in Schools Grant said:

“We are absolutely thrilled at the Academy to be hosting for a week in February such a prestigious national STEM event as ‘Bloodhound SSC’. 600 learners and gifted and talented students ranging in age from 10 to 18 from the school and local learning community will gain immediately from the event with a follow up programme and wider legacy that will, over time, be felt by all others in the school. It would simply have not been possible had the bid been unsuccessful and I would like to thank the judges for recognising both the merit of the bid and the long term vision underpinning it.” 

As a result of the EiSG funding, in addition to hosting the STEM event, Ilfracombe Academy will:

  • Introduce Engineering, including computer aided manufacturing, into the 11-18 school curriculum along with the opportunity to gain relevant technical qualifications
  • Upskill two teachers to enable them to teach Computing (programming) to GCSE and A level standard
  • Support practical learning by continuing to deliver periodic STEM projects in collaboration with local business/ manufacturing partners to develop creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial skills within their students


Skills Show Experience

As a part of Devon County Council’s efforts to inspire and inform Devon’s young people about the promising career opportunities available to them, the Council supported the ‘Skills Show Experience’ in Exeter. Held at Westpoint Arena, Clyst St Mary on the 22nd October 2014, ‘Have a Go’ Exeter saw over 1,200 young people aged 14 to 25 get inspired through hands-on experience of a variety of potential careers.

A wide selection of training providers and employers showcased a diverse range of industry sectors including hospitality, engineering, marine conservation, construction, creative industries, agriculture and sport and leisure. The variety of quirky and engaging activities on offer was really impressive and included: a circuits’ competition including a rowing machine, a turbo bike, boxing pads and skipping ropes, and an interactive sports quiz from Skills Group; access to a lighting rig from electrical training specialists DCET; popcorn making from River Cottage for the hospitality and catering sector; and also puzzles and reaction testing from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force.

Devon County Council supported the event by providing visitors with the opportunity to find out more about the catering sector, which included an interactive cooking demonstration from Devon-based Great British Bake Off contestant Glenn Cosby.

The Skills Show Experience Exeter was one of a nationwide programme of over 220 events throughout the year aimed at extending the impact of The Skills Show and inspiring over 200,000 young people across the country. The programme is part of Find a Future the new organisation which brings together the nation’s flagship skills and careers experiences.