Recent figures show that our region is suffering a shortage of more than 170,000 skilled workers, costing firms £1.5bn.

This shows that, now more than ever, the value of further education, vocational training programmes and apprenticeships is vital to the future success of business in our region. It is very important that we all go further to grow and develop our own, local, talent.


In late 2018 I was delighted to be asked, alongside Ben Laing from Branston Golf & Country Club, to speak to students of the John Taylor High School MEDal programme.

MEDaL is an Employability Skills programme specifically designed to provide school students (age range 15 – 19) with the generic skills that every employer would want to see in a new recruit to their organisation. These skills are frequently referred to as the ‘soft skills’ needed in the workplace. It is however increasingly evident that these skills are actually essential in order that young people are properly equipped to be ‘work ready’.

The workshops are usually delivered off site in venues that have included local pub and hotel function rooms where refreshments are provided. Consequently, the programme was nicknamed “MEDaL” as the assembled group do indeed Meet, Eat, Drink and Learn.

Programmes such as this highlight the value of further education training opportunities for your business where many education or vocational training programmes can be tailor-made for your specific business or sector needs.

Back in September 2018, Nik Hardy wrote his first President’s Focus, which you can find on:

Some courses can be held in part or in their entirety at your own business premises, or may involve substantial use of e-learning, while vocational courses may be taught at these or at specialist institutions. In 2016, our company teamed up with Burton and South Derbyshire College to open the Hardy Signs, Sign and Print academy at their campus in Burton on Trent. As the three-year anniversary approaches we are delighted with the progress so far.

Learners are given the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the processes, the machinery and the delivery of signage and print projects – not only within the classroom environment but also at our manufacturing HQ, Hardy Place. Just recently, the Hardy Signs fitting team joined students at the college to deliver a project on campus for the newly launched, Lego Innovation Centre. Working alongside the learners, imparting knowledge regarding the production and installation of large format digitally printed wallpaper and graphics.

Having identified a skills gap and now with over the three years since its inception, apprentices have developed their skills and I’m delighted to say we now have graduates from the academy taking full-time employment with Hardy Signs.

In addition, in 2019 Hardy Signs has partnered with Keele University and ‘KRISP’… Keele Research and Innovation Support Programme. As part of the part of the ERDF funded initiative, a student has been assigned to a given research project which they are currently undertaking. The research will form part of a more focussed, ongoing marketing strategy for the company and gives the student insight in to our industry first hand.

I would encourage businesses to seek out education and training opportunities which will offer many potential benefits to you the employer and to the employee. Your business can:

  • Access training that realises the full potential of your staff while meeting your business’ organisational needs
  • Use advanced training to implement your strategic plans more effectively, transfer knowledge and improve your employees’ skills base
  • promote your business as having a learning culture and attract new staff with attractive work-related training opportunities
  • Incentivise your staff through awards that link to a national framework and encourage progression gain accreditation for in-house programmes and enable your staff to gain credits towards higher education-level qualifications
  • Benefit from increased confidence and motivation among staff, reduced staff turnover rates and all-round better company performance

A great place to start is your Chamber of Commerce division. As president of Burton and District division I am continuing to spread the word and encourage businesses to join us in reducing the skills shortage across our region.

A similar version was also published by the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce:

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