Tackling the skills challenge - Essex County Council

Launched three years ago, the ESB has become a lead strategic partner in the skills agenda across Greater Essex and brings together employers, primary and secondary education, further and higher education and employer bodies.

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As part of its ambition to develop an inclusive economy, Essex County Council (ECC) is committed to improving the skills of its residents. Employers are at the very heart of their approach; the employer-led Employment and Skills Board (ESB), which also brings together primary and secondary education, and further and higher education providers, has been at the forefront of identifying the skills needs and challenges across Greater Essex. Together with the ESB and other partners, ECC has developed a comprehensive programme of activities which are making a tangible difference to residents across the county.   

The challenge

Essex is a varied county, with a mix of urban centres, international ports and airports, universities and world class firms, all alongside rural countryside and the longest coastline in England. However, the rate of economic growth in the county continues to lag behind the national average, and the gap between the wealthiest and most deprived places is too wide. Too many residents lack higher and advanced technical skills and economic inactivity remains particularly high in parts of the county.

The solution

Launched three years ago, the ESB has become a lead strategic partner in the skills agenda across Greater Essex (Essex, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock) and brings together employers, primary and secondary education, further and higher education and employer bodies. The ESB has been at the forefront of identifying the skills needs and challenges faced in Greater Essex and has recently been recognised as an exemplar of collaboration and business-centricity in the Confederation of British Industry’s skills report ‘In Perfect Harmony’.

The ESB has responded to the skills challenges in Essex through a wide range of initiatives and programmes, including:

  • the publication of a detailed Skills Evidence Base to identify skills gaps and deficiencies. This is seen as the definitive source of intelligence on skills in Greater Essex and is used by a wide variety of stakeholders to shape provision and drive investment in the skills sector
  • the development of an extensive network of businesses, enabling it to become a leading employer voice
  • working with local training providers, particularly in Further Education, to deliver new, enhanced qualifications, and projects such as a tutor professional development programme, with employers supporting college tutors to gain insight into industry needs for use in their teaching
  • informing young people about the range of local career opportunities through:
  • Careers guide ‘What’s Your Thing’, providing careers information that will help young people to understand the opportunities that exist in priority sectors and make informed GCSE choice
  • the Education and Industry STEM Programme, delivering a range of innovative and engaging activities with schools to enthuse young people about careers in priority sectors
  • the Essex Enterprise Advisor Network, in conjunction with the Careers Enterprise Company and the South East Local Enterprise Partnership.
  • publishing an ‘Ultimate Careers Guide’ aimed at adults; the magazine-styled guide provides tips and support on a range of employment related issues and includes case studies supplied by leading Essex employers
  • leading sector-specific initiatives to promote progression into key industries in Essex, including the delivery of an LGV/HGV driver programme and also a county-wide Care sector marketing campaign, delivered in partnership with care providers.

Other ECC-led activities include:

  • Provision of ECC grants to Further Education colleges in Essex to enable them to lever capital funding via the Local Enterprise Partnership, supporting the development of state-of-the-art training facilities across the county. Project proposals have drawn heavily on the findings of the ESB’s Skills Evidence Base.
  • Promotion of quality careers advice and guidance through the Quality in Careers Standard (QiCS), supporting schools to achieve the quality award and to deliver high quality careers education.
  • The establishment of the Apprenticeship Promotion and Brokerage Hub to raise awareness and create opportunities for young people to progress into an apprenticeship.
  • A specific focus on the health and social care sector, delivering a range of activities in colleges to increase the progression of learners into employment or further training within the care sector.

The impact

  • Through the Employment and Skills Board, ECC has developed a network of more than 150 businesses to advise and inform skills planning and delivery in Essex.
  • Employer engagement in college & school activities continues to grow, with Enterprise Advisors working in Essex schools plus a range of employers supporting industry taster days, masterclasses and competitions through the Education and Industry STEM programme. By March 2018, some 4,500 young people in Years 7-9 and a further 1,600 young people in Years 10-13 will have taken part in activities delivered through the programme in the current academic year.
  • Sector-specific marketing for the Care sector resulted in a 130% increase in the number of visits to a website through which residents can access job pages of care providers looking to recruit staff.
  • Capital investment has resulted in significant improvements in facilities at Essex colleges, supporting the delivery of skills and qualifications required by key industry sectors. These include the construction of the Harlow Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Centre and the STEM Innovation Centre in Braintree, both of which were officially opened in 2017. In addition, building work on the new Stansted Airport College, scheduled to open in September 2018, is already underway, and plans are well advanced for the second phase of the STEM Innovation Campus in Braintree, as well as for the Centre for Health and Development in Colchester, both due to open in 2019.
  • Though Essex has one of the largest cohorts of young people in the country (31,400 16 & 17 year olds to track and support), the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training is at record low levels (2.6% NEET, 1.2% unknown as at January 2018). Since 2012/13, ECC has supported over 5,880 NEET young people into training and employment opportunities.

How is the new approach being sustained?

ECC’s continued commitment to supporting people to increase their skills has enabled the range of activities to develop and evolve over a number of years. The ESB has been instrumental in developing and maintaining a positive and constructive dialogue with employers; this has had a direct and tangible impact on skills funding, provision and investment in Essex. Employers have also been very supportive, committing both their time and resources to a range of ECC and ESB-led activities. Furthermore, through these strong partnerships and robust evaluation, activities have evolved to ensure they remain relevant to industry and also deliver meaningful outcomes. 

Lessons learned

Collaboration with partners is key; in the face of limited public and private sector resources, it is essential to explore how organisations can work more effectively together to achieve common goals.


Paula Hornett, Lead Commissioner for Employability and Skills

Economy, Localities & Public Health

03330 130936

Caroline Betts, Lead Commissioner for Employability and Skills

Economy, Localities & Public Health

03330 130973

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