Portsmouth: Skills in short supply, says Solent LEP

The biggest threat to the region’s economic survival is a shortage of highly-skilled workers, according to chairman of the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Gary Jeffries.

Jeffries, who is also managing director of his own professional services company Hughes Ellard, was one of the founding non-executive directors of Solent LEP when it was established in 2011, and became chairman 18 months ago.

He said: “One of the biggest challenges facing us in this region is a lack of skilled workers. Employers and our own research repeat this over and over. This is an urgent challenge for all of us in the region and for those of us working in business and education.

“The region has a good level of people with intermediate-level skills but we lag behind the rest of the South East in terms of the number of people with higher-level skills, such as in engineering and IT. We are working with universities on skills capital programmes and we are working with colleges on developing apprenticeships.”

The Solent LEP has been awarded £200 million government funding to help grow business and enterprise in the region.

Speaking at the Portsmouth Business School’s open evening on February 24, Jeffries said: “At first, people weren’t sure what an LEP was for, but then we had the Heseltine report ‘No Stone Unturned’, and this helped put money and influence in the hands of LEPs to shape the economy of their region in a way that will transform the region’s fortunes.”

Awarded an MBA by Portsmouth Business School in 2009, he added: “I thought if I’m going to work at senior management level to help regenerate this region then I want to make sure I’m doing it properly. Before I studied for my MBA, I had very specific skills and education for my role in professional services, but when you step into management you need a different tool set. I estimate I spent 15-20 hours a week on my studies in addition to working full time and having a family. It’s certainly challenging but learning about best practice in all the different areas of business has proved invaluable.

“Working with clients is what excites me professionally and I really enjoy doing a good job for my clients. The MBA gave me a more rounded understanding of business as a whole and this now underpins much of my client-facing work.”