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Shaping the Future: A regional project with worldwide potential

Source: Public Sector Executive July/Aug 2012

Judy Craske, project director at Shaping the Future, describes an innovative £4m talent management programme that could transform social and economic development in North West Wales.

With the UK economy in a double-dip recession and news headlines full of the struggles of the unemployed, it is becoming more and more difficult for individuals at any stage of their career to find jobs. A combination of factors including rising inflation, ongoing economic uncertainty and continued levels of high unemployment means there is a real risk of a talent drain as graduates and skilled workers alike look to either relocate to a different region in the UK or migrate internationally to find work, causing a talent drain from the UK.

There is a strong case for introducing a new paradigm for talent management to prevent such a talent drain. One such example is a Macro Talent Management (MTM) programme which brings together stakeholders from the public and private sectors sharing intelligence and creating an early warning system relating to skills shortages and dynamic market insights, which are shared with stakeholders via regionalised working groups.

While this MTM style programme may sound attractive as an abstract concept, it also holds up in practice. Regions of the UK, such as the Thames Gateway, Silicon Fen and Silicon Glen have used such a process to draw businesses in to an area already rich in a desired skill set.

Silicon Glen, the name given to the Central Belt in Scotland, used to be home to the traditional heavy industries. As these industries declined throughout the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of skilled workers lost their jobs, around the time the electronics and IT sector started to take off. The Scottish Development Agency was set up in 1975 to stimulate economic growth by developing the business environment and offering inward investment incentives within the electronic and IT sector. During its heyday, Silicon Glen produced around 30% of Europe’s PCs and still produces software development, electronics design and innovation today, thanks to its highly skilled workforce.

Enterprise Zones Wales

Welsh Enterprise Zones are designated areas where specific incentives are being offered to attract new businesses and industry to that prime location. The aim of these zones is to strengthen the competitiveness of the Welsh economy and demonstrate the Welsh Government’s continued commitment to creating jobs and sustainable growth. Each zone focuses on a key target sector. Sectors are a crucial part of ‘Economic Renewal’, the new direction that sets the role devolved government can play in providing the best conditions and framework to enable companies to grow and flourish.

The Welsh Government has introduced a policy which aims to establish three enterprise zones close to the skilled workforce in North Wales. For example, Anglesey and Gwynedd are being heralded as energy enterprise zones as a number of sites around Anglesey are being considered in the energy and environment sector and the Trawsfynydd site at Gwynedd is to focus on the energy, environment and ICT sectors. A third area, in Deeside, is being established as an advanced manufacturing enterprise zone and includes the Airbus wingmaking facility at Broughton.

Shaping the Future

In North West Wales a new project has been launched which can serve as an exemplar of the MTM-style programme.

The region is set to lose two large employers when, following the Energy Act 2004, the Wylfa (pictured below) and Trawsfynydd nuclear power stations are decommissioned, resulting in the redundancy of a 1,200-strong workforce. The two power stations are currently at different stages in their lifecycle. Trawsfynydd has already been shut down and is being placed into its final care and maintenance status. Wyfla is still generating electricity with one reactor, as Reactor 2 was shut down in April.

The concern is for the workforce once both stations are fully decommissioned. They are highly technically skilled; in fact half of the workforce holds a degree or higher qualification, which is significantly higher than the average workforce in Wales. In order to keep these individuals working and ensure the region of North West Wales does not go into decline, a project named ‘Shaping the Future’ was developed.

Shaping the Future is a unique £4m talent management programme, placing human potential at the heart of economic success, combining investment opportunities with workforce development. It has two main objectives; one is to provide additional training and support for the 1,200 workers who are set to lose their jobs when the power stations are decommissioned. These new skills would need to be tailored to match the needs of new employers, thus ensuring employees arm themselves with as many new and relevant skills as possible, allowing them to tackle new industries.

The other main objective is to provide a platform for inward investment, collaborative working and cooperation between councils. The area is brimming with the technical and engineering skills that recruiters struggle to find anywhere else in the UK and are a perfect fit for emerging new technologies.

The project engages the public and private sector, drawing on investment and insights from two local councils; Gwynedd Council and the Isle of Anglesey County Council, the Welsh Government and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and combines this with support from private sector agencies with a common goal of delivering sustained economic and social development in North West Wales.

What has the project achieved so far?

Shaping the Future has been set up to anticipate what will happen in the region and plan accordingly, anticipating and capturing opportunities from changing markets and ensuring individuals are ‘skilled up’ for the future. It’s often the case that training programmes are abstract objectives which are brilliant in theory but hard to work in practice. Thanks to its realistic objectives and driven by a real necessity in the region, ‘Shaping the Future’ has really taken off and now has 770 enrolees, after only being launched in April.

A recent survey of the workforce at Wylfa and Trawsfynydd has found nearly three-quarters believe the project will be useful to them. They are aware of the need to find employment within three years but understandably want to stay in the region, where half of them have lived all their life. They also want to continue working in a similar industry.

The next challenge must be to target businesses to invest in the region, thus providing the much needed jobs for this skilled workforce. Often, human resources programmes concentrate on directing the workforce to where employment opportunities are instead of driving the location of a business to markets where these skills exist and can be leveraged.

This has three key benefits; it prevents a skills drain, offers firms a talented readily available workforce requiring minimal training and on a societal level helps protect and sustain communities to ensure their long-term viability. The public sector should not be afraid to help facilitate opportunities for private sector investment in development, on the contrary it is vital if we are to see the economy revive and thrive.

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