Hampshire County Council’s skills strategy and action plan works across two Local Education Partnerships and three unitary areas. This requires them to develop strong partnerships with providers and employers, with good skills programme networks to meet their region’s diverse needs. This case study looks at the state of the current skills and employment system, and what is required to increase positive outcomes for the local community.
About Hampshire County Council
Hampshire County Council covers most of the historic county of Hampshire, in southern England. It has a mix of urban and rural areas and lower-than-average unemployment, but with significant economic disparity across the 11 districts and boroughs.
Vision for the local area
Hampshire County Council works across two LEPs. Solent LEP covers the south of the county, including the unitary areas of Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight; and Enterprise M3 covers the northern half, stretching into Surrey. The council has strong partnerships with providers and employers, and good skills programme networks. Jude Robinson, Head of Strategy and Performance (Skills and Participation), said working with two LEPs can add some complexity to the skills landscape. Hampshire is in the early stages of considering a county deal.
The county council developed a skills strategy and action plan in 2019/20 which involved labour market research, analysis of FE provision and stakeholder workshops. It sets out the local ambitions through to 2030, with three headline priorities:
- A future-proofed, demand-led employment and skills system which reflects current and future need, is strongly integrated with the needs of employers and ensures that ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ work more effectively together.
- An inclusive labour market which addresses some of the structural inequalities that exist here. There are some significant pockets of deprivation – for example, in Winchester about 60 per cent of the population has a Level 4 qualification, but in Havant it is about 20 per cent.
- A high-quality skills infrastructure and facilities – ensuring that facilities are fit for purpose now and into the future, particularly around the technical education agenda.
“On the second target, there is significant disparity in attainment and opportunity in different areas. We want to understand that and help some of those areas to level up, which involves looking at how we can work more effectively with our district partners to address some of those inequalities,” said Jude.
There are also some target priority groups of children that have historically under-performed in school attainment compared to their peers, such as children on free school meals, looked-after children and those with special educational needs or disability.
“We want to try to close some of those gaps. So that second priority is really about developing a more inclusive labour market, with the concept of ‘good’ work – high-quality jobs available to all,” added Jude.
Work the council is currently undertaking
Hampshire’s skills and participation service sits within children’s services. It focuses mainly on opportunities for young people, but also includes adult and community learning programmes. There is a strong relationship with the council’s economic development service and a joint skills management board, which meets regularly to make sure work is aligned across the two services. For example, this ensures that any inward investment coming into economic development has a skills strand attached to it.
The county and district councils meet together from an economic development perspective, so the team feeds into that too, particularly around the employment and skills planning process and apprenticeships. The Construction Skills Fund (CSF) project in particular has been very successful in demonstrating how they can work together effectively to meet the needs of employers, and support local communities to gain access to skills and employment (see ‘the local perspective’ below).
“We have good working relationships with our districts and are trying to focus more attention on those areas that have the greatest need,” explained Jude.
The county council delivers apprenticeship and skills hubs on behalf of both LEPs. This includes a specific focus on the low carbon agenda.
“We are keen to ensure that we, as a county council, can add value through our own direct delivery programmes and cross-referrals from our existing employer relationships, back into things like providing work experience and skills opportunities,” said Jude.
Related to this is an apprenticeship levy transfer programme worth £3.5 million to March 2023. This enables Hampshire to transfer its unspent levy funds to employers who would not otherwise access apprenticeship funding, including SMEs, public sector organisations and key sectors such as health and social care.
“That works really well and keeps gathering momentum," added Jude.
Opportunities, barriers and potential solutions
The changing policy context, including the anticipated ‘Levelling Up’ white paper, presents a real opportunity to go further in developing a world-class, flexible and inclusive skills system that delivers growth and prosperity for all.
“Investing in skills underpins the levelling up agenda, and there is a now a convincing case for a fully devolved employment and skills system. This would allow us build upon our already well established and successful relationships with businesses and providers, and adopt a truly strategic approach to commissioning.
“Collaboration defines our approach and we want to create a new pan-Hampshire skills architecture, with strong employer-focused representation from all sectors, capable of more coherently and accurately articulating – and delivering – those skills needed now and for the future,” explained Jude
Hampshire wants to align careers and apprenticeships programmes more closely, moving away from the current project-led approach determined by separate funding from government, and again adopting a more strategic approach by evolving the current county-led local careers partnership as part of the new local skills architecture:
“There has undoubtedly been investment in these agendas in recent years, for example the Careers & Enterprise Company, apprenticeship and skills hubs, European Social Fund, STEM Ambassadors and UniConnect programmes, but initiatives and funding are fragmented, with local alignment happening by chance rather by design.
“As a strategic authority, the county council attempts to ensure there is a coherence, and that impact is maximised, but think how much further we could go in addressing some longstanding challenges if investment was aligned and sustained. Local leadership is vital. It will allow us to deliver on our shared commitment to levelling up, and we see the Shared Prosperity Fund as key to this, too,” said Jude.
The local perspective
Cliff joined the CSF course in Winchester in July 2019. He had worked as a kitchen fitter and joiner, but after 30 years of on/off substance misuse he ended up spending a long time in hospital. He then went to live at a night shelter in Winchester, and they referred him to a CSCS (Construction Skills Certificate Scheme) course. Cliff also had the support of the Trinity Centre, a day centre supporting vulnerable people.
The course was hosted by Willmott Dixon, one of five main construction partners in the Hampshire County Council CSF project. Cliff was able to study for and take his CSCS card, traffic marshal card and a level 1 qualification in basic construction skills. He was offered a role as a general labourer on a Willmott Dixon construction site.
At the time he was interviewed, Cliff was preparing to move into his own flat, and the senior build manager was encouraging him to train as a site handyman.
“The training has given me something to look forward to – to get up every morning and go to work,” said Cliff.