Gareth Jones, Managing Director – In-Comm Training
Article by Amar Johal
Business Influencer talks skills agenda, recovery and strategic industrial partnerships with Bekki Phillips and Gareth Jones, the two driving forces behind In-Comm Training.
Covid-19 has shaken the very foundations of the global economy, but, on a rare positive note, it has given parts of industry the opportunity to have some valuable thinking time.
With volumes reduced or, in some cases, temporarily halted, management teams have been able to consider what the ‘new normal’ will look like and what skills they will need moving forward.
The pandemic has forced leaders to analyse their skill base to make tough decisions such as which job roles to furlough, organisational restructuring, turning their attention to new markets.
This analysis should not be wasted, but further developed as it has finetuned what the critical skills are for growth, diversity and sustainability.
It is an approach that Gareth Jones and Bekki Phillips, the brother and sister team behind In-Comm Training, have been trying to embed with the 450 companies it works with for more than five years, encouraging them to get on board its ‘employer-led’ model that gives the business the opportunity to not only tailor the apprenticeships or upskilling courses, but actually design them – thus getting a member of staff that delivers immediate benefit to the bottom line.
Most have been fully supportive of this direction and the firm’s client base now includes a host of multi-nationals (such as Aldi, Collins Aerospace and Gestamp Tallent) and hundreds of forward-thinking SMEs like Brandauer, Fablink and PP Control & Automation.
“There is still lots to be done and now seems to be the right time to have the conversation about the wider skills agenda,” explained Bekki Phillips, Chief Operating Officer at In-Comm Training.
“It’s fair to say there have been some major strides forward, but, if we’re not careful, the impact of the pandemic is going to wipe those away as companies batten down the hatches and ignore the wider picture.
“Just take apprenticeships for example. Covid-19 will arguably have the biggest economic hit on our young people and, if we’re not careful, we stand to lose a generation of potential workers. We can’t let that happen.”
In-Comm Training, which has led a £7m investment plan in three technical academies in Aldridge and Shropshire, has acted quickly to try to bridge this gap by launching the ‘Equip the Recovery’ campaign.
It committed to creating an additional 200 positions for young or mature learners between now and September and is asking businesses to get involved by creating roles within their companies.
In return, the Ofsted ‘Outstanding’-rated provider will offer one-to-one support to management teams to help them make the most of the Apprenticeship Levy, to navigate their Digital Apprenticeship Service Account, to understand the different training standards and to manage the matchmaking process so that firms get individuals that reflect their culture.
The campaign also asked employers to celebrate the massive operational and commercial benefits apprentices deliver, including the underutilised ability to upskill staff in new areas or those who want a career change.
“We felt we had to do something to engage the disengaged and get more companies on board and the initial response to ‘Equip the Recovery’ has been great,” continued Bekki.
“80 of those 200 positions are in the process of being filled and the pipeline is looking stronger – industry and professional services have really got behind the concept.
“We’ve found from talking to management teams that they are yearning for an integrated approach to skills within their business. They want someone to come in, understand what they do, audit their skills issues and then strategically manage the action plan, which could include apprenticeships, upskilling courses or access to consultancy, such as continuous improvement, quality and leadership and management.
Gareth Jones, who re-joined In-Comm Training as Managing Director last year, went on to add: “Strategic industrial partnerships are key to making this happen and this has been illustrated with the way we have built mutually beneficial relationships with the Engineering Technology Group (ETG), Grainger & Worrall and IMI Norgren to name but a few. Together, we are developing new standards, tapping into their competences and their fantastic technology – a win-win for employers and learners.”
The duo’s passion for skills is clearly evident and is reflected in the atmosphere around their three technical academies, where industry experts happily discuss experience and pass on their knowledge to learners of all ages.
Gareth picked up the story: “We’ve got some big things happening over the next twelve months, not least the relocation of our Bridgnorth facility to a purpose-built building in Telford the opening of the UK’s first National Power Press and Tooling line at Aldridge and our important role in delivering the Institute of Technology in the Marches.
“There has also been some noticeable changes in Apprenticeships that companies need to consider. Primarily, there have been numerous new standards developed in recent years and businesses need to fully understand what is required as part of these standards and how they impact the learner and subsequent job role before going to market.
“We feel there will be a noticeable change in the skills landscape, with the anticipated electrification ramp-up creating an increased demand for technical roles that support this growth. Programming, maintenance, mechatronics, product design and continuous improvement will all be top of the wish list for firms looking to take advantage.
“A recent white paper released by Education Minister Gavin Williamson on Skills for Jobs, which is a reform of the Further Education sector, has a two-pronged attack.
He concluded: “Membership organisations, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Combined Authority, will audit industry and identify the skills requirement, whilst Further Education will then bid for capital to be deliver against the identified need through regulated or non-regulated training programmes. Pilots will be up and running later this year, so definitely one for industry to keep an eye on.”