2014 Somerset In Business conference deemed a success

More than 250 business people attended this year’s Somerset in Business Conference, which took place at Junction 24, North Petherton on Thursday 5th June. Entitled ‘Developing the Workforce for Somerset’, it addressed the importance of training and developing the skills and attitudes that Somerset businesses need in order to grow and stay competitive in today’s fast-changing environment.

The 7th annual conference, which was jointly organised by the Somerset Chamber of Commerce and inward investment organisation Somerset 3D, was split into three sessions: Inspiring Young People in the Workplace, which looked at the opportunities for young people in Somerset; Higher Level Skills for Business, which focused on those already in business; and Skilling the Hinkley Workforce, which was all about making sure that Somerset businesses are ready for the Hinkley challenge.

Phil Harris, interim Chair of the Somerset Employment and Skills Board, spoke about what ‘employability’ is and how the Somerset Employment and Skills Board has a major contribution to make towards the county’s growth plans. He stressed their eagerness to engage more with employers in order to help both employers and employees to reach their full potential, saying “Tell us what would really assist you in achieving your aims. We need real clarity backed by firm data to unlock cash. General feelings, beliefs and thoughts are not good enough. We need real and fully supported data on what you need and then targeted assistance may be available.”

He added, “Somerset is a great place to live and work. We need to get this message across to the next generation. Our role as employers in the short term is to work with schools, colleges, teachers, pupils, parents, local authorities, public bodies. Our message must be that your only limitation is your ambition to succeed.”

A number of case studies were presented, providing real-life examples and advice about the tangible benefits and opportunities on offer. Laing O’Rourke director Caroline Blackman discussed the Olympic workforce legacy. At peak construction, she said there were 12,000 people working on the Olympic Park. 65% of the workforce left with higher skills than they arrived with, while 450 apprenticeships were achieved in the construction of the Olympic Park. Jonathan Langdon, Chairman and Founding Partner at Milsted Langdon as well as being an Somerset 3D board member, emphasised the need to encourage and nurture talent and ability, explaining how their investment in training has been richly rewarded. He concluded, “I feel passionately that it is an employer’s responsibility to develop its workforce but the accountant in me also recognises that it makes excellent commercial sense.”

Graham Knight, Chair of the Somerset Chamber of Commerce and Head of Business Development at Strode College, facilitated one of the three sessions. Summing up the event, he said, "I am absolutely delighted with this year’s conference, skills is such a critical issue for us here in Somerset and to get almost 260 key business people together to hear the issues of the day and discuss the various implications is a great testimony to everyone involved. Thanks to everyone who attended.”

The conference, which was sponsored by EDF Energy, Somerset College, Bridgwater College and GAIN, was followed by an opportunity for delegates to engage in one-to-one surgeries with the Hinkley Supply Chain, National Apprenticeship Service, Somerset Chamber of Commerce, Somerset 3D, GAIN and SWMAS.


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