A great conversation with…Paul Cherpeau, Liverpool Chamber of Commerce

For the first instalment of our ‘Great Conversations’ series, we sat down with Paul Cherpeau, chief executive of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, to talk about training and skills in the region.

What’s the biggest business challenge of the moment from your experiences representing companies across Liverpool?

There are certainly areas of our economic base experiencing shortages of skills and it is regularly cited within our research and engagement with businesses as their critical obstacle to improving business performance and productivity.

Is this a challenge for any specific sectors, or is it across the board?

There are multiple sectors impacted by shortages in generic but mission-critical talent, such as leadership and management and digital competency. The data derived through the Chamber’s quarterly economic survey has for the past two years reported more than 75 per cent of businesses have experienced difficulties recruiting staff, most notably in professional or technical roles. We are also aware that there is a premium placed on digital talent, such is the demand for businesses to adapt.

What needs to change to meet the skills challenge?

I believe there’s a requirement for a much greater focus on the essentials of employability through school, Further Education and Higher Education, and on ensuring the availability of re-training or upskilling within the workplace.

Politicians should be less interested in the short-term shocks to the UK skills system and focus on a generational approach to policy-making with sufficient flexibility to adapt to the changing world our businesses operate within.

Investment in careers advice and guidance is essential along with a greater value placed upon the attainment of skills, values and behaviours rather than the exam-obsessed culture that’s endemic within our education system. Fundamentally, much greater consideration needs to be given to the practical implications for employers.

What’s the Chamber doing to help address this?

We’re working with members to identify some of the best practice undertaken by business with schools in the city region to better understand what experiences our school children are having within their educational experience.

We’re also working with our Young Chamber partner school, Archbishop Blanch to facilitate direct links and participation between Chamber members and the school. We are also working closely with John Moores and Hope Universities in providing additional links and opportunities with members. On a strategic and policy level we are joining British Chambers of Commerce to lobby for improvements to apprenticeship delivery, graduate employment, immigration policy, ageing workforce implications, health and wellbeing practices and of course, school engagement.

What’s happening generally on this front in Liverpool?

There’s a great deal of activity underway or in development within Liverpool. The introduction of the Career Hubs partially addresses the shortage of dedicated career advice and guidance in the city region whilst the devolution of the Adult Skills Budget enables greater control to be exercised locally for how training and development funds can and are prioritised and delivered.

What does the future hold?

A lot of uncertainty for a number of reasons, but a change in priorities from outputs to outcomes and a recognition that our 45,000-strong business community of SMEs need trusted, timely and quality support to prepare, provide and develop talent for and within their organisations. This philosophy will enable our city region to be home for a generation of outstanding talent that is a cornerstone of the Liverpool brand.