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Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils: working together to meet the skills agenda

Babergh and Mid Suffolk work with Suffolk County Council to support the efforts happening in their region to meet the skills agenda. When required they build on this work to develop, or fund initiatives, such as The Mix, which helps young people to develop life skills. Or, through their Careeriosity event, which offer careers advice and guidance to adults, helping them to gain employment.

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Overview of the region

Babergh and Mid Suffolk are two district councils in Suffolk, covering a primarily rural area with a few small market towns. The councils share their administrative functions and management team and are based in Ipswich, in the same building as Suffolk County Council.

Vision for the local area

Historically, the main employment sectors in this part of Suffolk were manufacturing and agriculture, so it was largely a low-skilled and low-wage economy. Many people would follow their parents and grandparents into a job. Fiona Duhamel, Assistant Director for Economic Development and Regeneration, said this could result in a lack of aspiration: “When generations of people have worked in the local factory, and the factory suddenly lays off 70 per cent of its workforce, it leaves people not knowing what to do. We want to raise levels of aspiration – to give young people, in particular, different options about skills and careers.”

The councils have launched a recovery plan setting out the pathway for post-COVID-19 recovery and supporting the foundations of growth at a local level. It includes an over-arching vision for the local economy.

"We will become places known for strong growth in innovation and creativity, highly connected and sustainable with the best skilled workforce across the East", added Fiona.

Work the councils are currently undertaking

Babergh and Mid Suffolk work closely with Suffolk County Council. In the past, the skills agenda was largely seen as a county council function, but Fiona said: “That has definitely changed, in that we have much more freedom and are supported by the county council to develop initiatives and work alongside our county colleagues on programmes. We have a very good working relationship with them, and it doesn’t feel ‘top down’.”

The district councils fund a youth work charity based in Stowmarket called ‘The Mix’, which works with young people to help them develop life skills, including preparing for work.

“They are a fantastic resource and do a lot of work with NEETs [young people not in education, employment or training] to give them options around upskilling, work placements and other employment support”, explained Fiona.

In terms of support for adults, there is ongoing collaboration between the county, districts, employers and skills providers on meeting the skills needs of some of Suffolk’s major infrastructure projects, including the Sizewell C nuclear power station and a large leisure and tourism initiative.

An important part of raising aspiration is demonstrating to local people what career progression can look like. So, with Suffolk County Council, local businesses and the universities of Suffolk and Essex, Babergh and Mid Suffolk have been exploring the opportunity for a new skills and innovation centre at a large commercial development site, Gateway 14.

“While we don’t want to replace what the FE and HE colleges offer, we want to look at an alternative way of bringing skills to adult learners, which means that if they want to switch career, they don’t have to take time off work to attend a training course. We are looking at that issue in partnership across our district to see if there is a model we can develop which would fill those gaps,” said Fiona.

Fiona explained they are also looking at the barriers that prevent people from accessing skills opportunities: “Districts can add value in that respect because we have a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t work in our communities. For example, our broadband speeds are low in some areas, so delivering online courses could be quite challenging.”

Opportunities, barriers and potential solutions

Babergh and Mid Suffolk are working with the University of Essex to explore the possibility of what Fiona called a ‘knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) light’, looking at how to make KTPs successful for small local businesses.

“Again, it’s about us being able to have the resource and the headspace to think of those schemes that can help local businesses to grow, and therefore create more employment opportunities."

The number of businesses taking on apprentices has dipped, and it would be helpful if there was a way for small businesses to share apprentices.

“Some flexibilities around some of the government initiatives would be really helpful, to help make the pot go further. Some businesses can’t afford the cost of employing an apprentice because they really only need one half the time. The current system is seen to be too complex by most businesses,” said Fiona.

There is some frustration that DWP’s ‘Kickstart’ programme takes a short-term approach, which makes it difficult for partners to help all participants transition to good placements after the programme’s initial success.

The local perspective

The first ‘Careeriosity’ event was held during half term in October 2021. It was run by Babergh and Mid Suffolk, working with a wide range of partners. Industry experts were invited to run career workshop sessions for young people and share first-hand workplace experiences, which included film, music, virtual gaming, sports and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) opportunities.

Fiona said: “This was a completely different approach to helping young people think about the skills and career possibilities of the future. Rather than host something in a school setting, we ran it over three days at four different sites across Stowmarket.”

About 160 young people took part (COVID-19 factors may have affected participation). Fiona stated that the feedback was overwhelmingly positive in terms of helping them access practical advice on different industries:

“Careeriosity has a really important role in our ambition to raise aspiration. We are looking to roll it out across a wider area and to put on more targeted events. For example, we know that the energy sector has a skills deficit, so we are looking at how to get more people to consider energy, in its widest sense, as a possible career route.”


Fiona Duhamel, Assistant Director for Economic Development - [email protected]

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