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Blackpool: supplying skills for the local visitor economy

Well known for its attractions such as the Pleasure Beach, trams, the Tower and illuminations, Blackpool attracts 18 million visitors per year and generates £1.5 billion in visitor spend. Following a decline in its visitor numbers, the town began to reverse its fortunes from 2014 onwards through a sustained programme of investment.

Recent years have seen significant levels of public and private investment and key assets such as the Winter Gardens and Tower taken into public ownership. The importance of the tourism and hospitality sector to the Lancashire economy and especially to Blackpool, is recognised in the council’s and the local enterprise partnerships (LEP) strategic planning and funding bids.

Issues and challenges

At a strategic level it is recognised that skills issues including recruitment challenges and high staff turnover are preventing the visitor economy from achieving its potential. The industry is seen as low pay, low skilled with limited career progression opportunities and employers report that the full breadth of jobs and careers in the sector is not accurately conveyed to young people. More generally, employers remarked on the need for:

  • customer service skills
  • work readiness skills amongst young recruits, with comments about a lack of work ethic – prospective recruits lack soft skills and are not seen as ‘work ready’  
  • good supervisory and management skills – there is a lack of relevant qualifications in this area to be able to make a judgement  of competence
  • a rising demand for digital skills in a whole range of roles such as front of house, kitchen staff and HR.

As well as recruitment and retention issues employers see a need to address the prevalence of skills gaps across the sector and to develop better managerial and leadership abilities to support staff progression and the growth of the industry more generally.

Several times during the consultation work undertaken for this study, the scarcity of public transport services outside conventional working hours was highlighted as an issue affecting employment opportunities in the sector and exacerbating the difficulty of filling vacancies. 

The local response

A new Tourism Academy has been established, chaired by the private sector and led by Blackpool and The Fylde College. Through this model, employers and the college are building on their experience to work directly together to tackle key skills issues facing the industry with the support of the council, but without its mediation. 

Key success factors in tackling its skills challenges include:

  • a strategic drive and acknowledgement of the importance of the sector at local authority and LEP levels  
  • a willingness to apply for all available funding to support growth
  • strong partnership working between the council, employers and the main training provider which in turn has led to continuity and the emergence of trusted relationships
  • a willingness on the part of the Blackpool and The Fylde College to drive forward the skills agenda for the sector and to respond creatively and flexibly to local needs
  • the presence of a number of major employers who can collectively provide a voice for the sector and deliver the scale of demand needed to develop bespoke training courses
  • the engagement and commitment of major local employers to ‘own’ the skills agenda.