Harrogate's recruitment and self isolation crisis: How town is fighting back
Harrogate may be facing a summer recruitment crisis as the economy seeks a returns to normality and the NHS track and trace app forces staff into self isolation but the town is fighting back.
The boss of Harrogate College says the educational institution stands ready to boost the supply of trained staff in support of the district’s economy, especially in the hospitality sector.
Principal Danny Wild, pictured, said the college was taking steps to fill the skills gap and was keen on working closely with local businesses in a flexible way to do so.
Mr Wild said: “In recognition of the current shortages in hospitality we have reached out through our own networks and the Chamber of Commerce to explain how we can support.
"This includes a series of new short courses that businesses or individuals can do with us to build confidence and skills in customer service and front of house service.
“The main point of these courses is that we can be flexible in the delivery to support businesses.”
Appointed to the role of Harrogate College principal in August 2019 by Luminate Education group, one of the largest further education providers in the north, Mr Wild has said from the start he had a clear vision of what needs to be done to build the reputation of this place of further education and adult learning, whose roots go back to the 19th century.
The college principal’s enthusiasm for relevant apprenticeship schemes which are good for students and employers is also on record.
When it comes to the town’s current recruitment problems, he says he is not only stepping up Harrogate College’s efforts, he is open to ideas from local businesses.
Mr Wild said: “We recognise the high value of the hospitality sector in Harrogate and North Yorkshire and are fully committed to developing a highly-skilled workforce that supports businesses. We have been increasing our business engagement team and apprenticeship assessors workforce to support demand.
“If businesses want help with referrals from our own students for causal work or something more formal such as the apprenticeship schemes above, we can do that.
“The most important message is we want to make it clear to businesses that our role is to support the community and if there is anything they need in relation to training or access to students for job roles then to please get in touch with us.”
Harrogate College's approach has been welcomed by Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce which is keen to help support businesses and their staffing issues.
David Simister, the Chamber's Chief Executive, said: “Speaking with Chamber members, in particular those in the hospitality industry, recruitment at all levels is proving a real challenge.
“There are a number of factors, and a major barrier is pay. UK workers have shunned low paid jobs, and these places have been filled by workers from the EU. However, many returned home at the start of Brexit and have not come back.
“I recently met with Harrogate College Principal, Danny Wild, and we had a detailed discussion about this very subject, which isn’t unique to our town or district. Businesses working in partnership with education providers who can offer the necessary skills and courses, is one way to overcome this.
“There are a number of businesses offering great career opportunities, and as someone who was lucky enough to have successfully served two apprenticeships, I’d like to see this number grow.
"But to do so often need inducements, and this is where government, local, regional and national, needs to step in.
Harrogate Borough Council says it has already been preparing for the pitfalls of a post-Covid world with it own economic recovery plan for the district, known officially as the “Covid-19 Economic Recovery Framework”,
Trevor Watson, Harrogate Borough Council’s director for economy, environment and housing, said: "We continue to face the challenge that, if any of staff get a notification from the NHS Test and Trace app to self-isolate, then they must do so.
"For many of us, this doesn’t present a problem as we can work at home ut for our leisure centre staff in public swimming pools this isn’t possible and sadly has an unavoidable impact on the services we provide.
"But we are doing what we can to recruit staff and return to normal as soon as possible.
"We have a number of aims to support jobs, including working with businesses to ensure they can access the people and skills that they need to grow and succeed.”
Harrogate Borough Council's action plan includes:
Investing in council-owned commercial premises at Conyngham Hall in Knaresborough and Phoenix Business Park in Ripon to support business growth.
Creating a digital incubator hub at Springfield House with office, event and meeting space, a business support hub one-to-one business advice and business workshops.
Encouraging investors and businesses outside the district to ‘Think Harrogate’ as a fantastic place to work, invest and do business
Mr Watson added: “Through our focussed efforts, and joint-working with businesses and organisations we aim to ensure the Harrogate district survives, recovers and thrives in a sustainable way.”