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David Allen, Senior Partnerships Manager at The Open University in Scotland, gives some further insight into how the University is building meaningful engagements with Scottish businesses.

As the only higher education institution with access to the Flexible Workforce Development Fund, The Open University is focused on driving awareness of the support available to employers which can deliver quality training to their staff.

With the risk of stating the obvious, times are tough.  Business owners are coping with the ongoing impact of Brexit, covid and the cost-of-living crisis. Staff retention and recruitment are challenging.  Employers are competing to attract the right experienced talent, while also ensuring their workforce is future-proofed to respond to an ever-increasing focus on automation, digitisation and low-carbon priorities.

Business owners recognise that staff upskilling and reskilling is pivotal in enabling them to respond to challenges while boosting productivity and efficiency. In the Open University’s latest Business Barometer, undertaken in partnership with the British Chamber of Commerce, 70% of survey responders in Scotland agreed that their organisation is currently facing skills shortages. What’s more, 84% of Scottish organisations said the impact of skills shortages was causing increased workload on other staff, and 77% were seeing reduced output, profitability, or growth as a result.

External training budgets are under constant pressure from all directions. And for small medium enterprises (SMEs) especially, there is often an added challenge of not quite knowing where to start in developing a cohesive business-wide staff training strategy.

Through the Flexible Workforce Development Fund (FWDF) from the Scottish Funding Council however, The Open University (OU) is in an ideal position to help. Through the fund we provide access to high-quality flexible online training covering key priority topic areas for businesses, including business management and leadership, project management, digital, finance, digital marketing and sustainability.

We also have a skilled team that will work with businesses to develop and devise the right training strategy for their organisation and its business objectives. As we can deliver this at little or no cost to SMEs and apprenticeship levy-paying businesses, it presents a massive opportunity, for individual businesses to upskill and reskill their workforce, but to also help drive improvements in Scotland- wide economic productivity.

Blog-16052023And it works. Between 2021 to 2022, the OU has welcomed 347 learners from 78 different businesses across Scotland and outcomes and feedback has been incredibly positive. This is reflected in employer and business case studies, such as software developers Tank Studios, who successfully developed their business and generated new revenue streams, as a result of their Head of Sales and Marketing upskilling through OU learning, supported by FWDF.

The cornerstone of our awareness-building campaign for FWDF funded OU training, has been a seven-date Skills for Business Roadshow which took place across Scotland in April and May. We worked in close partnership with many regional Chambers of commerce, business improvement districts and other industry business partners to deliver these events.

Our roadshow strategy was based on insight that awareness of Scottish Government training support was lowest within rural or semi-rural-based businesses.

The Skills for Business Roadshow is the first time the OU has reached out directly to business owners on this scale, but as a trial endeavour, we’re delighted with how positively it has been received. Over 120 businesses across Scotland were able to attend the roadshow in person. Through our chamber memberships alone we were able to actively engage with over 1,500 organisations.

Blog-16052023-3It’s early days, but on the back of the roadshow events we are seeing a positive shift in the volume of awareness, interest and momentum for FWDF which we will continue to build on in the coming months.

The benefit of Flexible Workforce Development Fund, coupled with the volume of provision the OU in Scotland is able to offer businesses of all shapes, sizes and locations across Scotland, means we are in a strong position to continue supporting business growth.

We can also support the reskilling and upskilling of Scotland’s workforce, to drive positive changes around staff wellbeing, and workload planning, and to help drive improved productivity and profitability at both a business and economic level.

For more information on The Open University in Scotland and the Flexible Workforce Development Fund, visit: www.open.ac.uk/business/fwdf