Sheffield City Region: attracting the ‘right kind’ of interest in regional training and skills development support

Sheffield City Region on how they attracted over 100 businesses and 1,000 employees to apply for skills funding with a direct, explicit link to business growth. This case study forms part of our devolution communications toolkit.

Communications support

The challenge

One of the key priorities for the Sheffield City Region Mayoral Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership (SCR) is to support the growth of the 68,000 businesses across the city region. They are proud to be home to innovative businesses like Boeing, McLaren Automotive and Rolls Royce and have experienced recent successes in increasing the number of jobs within the region. The focus now is on ensuring that local people in the SCR are in a position to supply the future pipeline of skilled technical and professional roles, directly supporting both business and local economic growth.

Under the banner of the Growth Hub (the SCR business support gateway), businesses could access the Skills Bank to draw on funding provided by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) for bespoke training, advice and guidance that responded directly to their needs and supports the productivity and growth of their organisation. The challenge – as with any funding opportunity - was to gain high quality applications that clearly linked business growth and the training being sought.

The approach

The initial pilot marketing of the Skills Bank focused on messaging which communicated the key take-out of ‘upskilling training for employees’. The feedback from internal and external stakeholders showed that this would result in applications that were more of the ‘licence to practice’ kind as well as mandatory training, available through other routes and not directly linked to business growth. These were not the kind of applications that SCR were looking for.

The decision was taken to turn the messaging on its head. The fact the training was match-funded was a secondary message, with the primary focus being on business growth and skills (e.g. ‘Could upskilling your staff help your business to grow?’ and ‘Is a lack of skills holding your business back?’). This focus on professional skills and serious business growth was enhanced through a partnership with McLaren who are one of the most recent investors in the region. This included several interactive workshops where McLaren shared their skills story with local businesses, focusing on how upskilling has supported business growth.

The Skills Bank opportunity was publicized through targeted digital advertising using a combination of GoogleAds (with key words such as ‘skills’ and ‘Sheffield’ helping to optimize the Skills Bank results position) and targeting specific segments via social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as well as more traditional local print media and radio. As an example, the Communications Team targeted local commercial radio stations during the day to ensure they were able to more actively reach businesses and employees who may not be regularly online or in more ‘traditional’ 9-5 office jobs.

Working with their colleagues across the Growth Hub and Skills Bank, the SCR Communications Team adopted a very methodical approach to publicising the Skills Bank offer. A clear focus on the desired economic and business outcomes helped to shape the messaging content which was then tested to determine whether it would direct the desired behavior (i.e. appropriate applications). A partnership with a high-profile local business which reflected the ethos of skills and growth helped amplify the ambitions of the SCR and the Skills Bank. Finally, through segmenting their target groups the team was able to consider the range of relevant channels through which potential beneficiaries could be reached.

Outcomes and lessons learned

In January 2020 SCR’s Skills Bank celebrated their 100th business signing up to access training and funding, accounting for more than the targeted 1,000 learners.

By March 2020, Skills Bank had helped businesses access training worth more £2.86m across every major sector, including healthcare, digital enterprises, advanced manufacturing, construction, bespoke recruitment consultants, and in every corner of the Sheffield City Region.

In fact, the initiative has been so successful that it has been extended until 2021 to enable more employees to benefit from access to high quality bespoke training.