AN economic regeneration guru has warned that a shortage of skilled labour has become a “growing time-bomb” for Wrexham.
Paul Hildreth, who has advised national and international organisations on the development of cities, regions and local economies, was one of the keynote speakers at a meeting of Wrexham Business Professionals (WBP).
The influential group is made up of highly skilled firms of accountants, solicitors and other businesses working together to raise the profile of the professional and business expertise that exists in the region and beyond.
Mr Hildreth works with the Bartlett School of Planning at the University of London and is also a Visiting Policy Fellow of the SURF urban policy think-tank at Salford University.
He has just completed a major piece of research on how Wrexham fits into in the economic picture of North East Wales and Chancellor George Osborne’s proposed Northern Powerhouse.
And he gave an audience of around 100 at the Ramada Plaza meeting, which had the theme Powering Regional Prosperity, an insight into what this has revealed.
Describing how he had conducted in-depth interviews with 58 companies in a variety of sectors across Wrexham, he said that one of the main messages from them was about a shortage of skilled workers.
He said: “My research showed that a strength of the area is that it is very much connected to its markets but that one of the key disadvantages is the shortage of skills.
“This is a big problem because while Wrexham companies hold on to staff very well, their average age is going up and up.
“This means they are being faced with a situation where a lot of people are retiring and they are not generating enough skilled people to take over.”
He added: “This skills shortage is a fundamental issue for the companies I spoke to and is a growing time-bomb.
“I know that both Glyndwr University and Coleg Cambria are currently doing lots of work on this and if I were the Welsh Government I’d be supporting them.”
On the Chancellor’s proposed Northern Powerhouse centred on northern England, he said: “London and the South East is becoming an increasingly powerful region and that is why we’ve got to respond to a development idea like this.”
Mr Hildreth said that a further major problem highlighted by firms was the inconsistency of high-speed broadband which they had stressed to him must be tackled to ensure their success.
Another message from Wrexham businesses was that inward investment was not necessarily the answer to business growth and that the importance of growing indigenous companies should be embraced.
“One reason for this area’s success it doesn’t have to compete with a big city like Manchester and therefore connects to Chester and Deeside, and this synergy is something that could be made more of.”
Wrexham Business Professionals chair, Gill Kreft, said: “The skills shortage underlined by Mr Hildreth’s extremely thorough and interesting research is something everyone in business locally is only too well aware of.
“Our members therefore think it is absolutely vital that the strong links that already exist between our educational institutions and employers should be maintained and strengthened.
“The excellent work on finding ways to tackle the growing skills shortage being done by Glyndwr University and Coleg Cambria is of vital importance and we agree with Mr Hildreth that this should be given every possible support by the Welsh Government.
”We have some fantastic indigenous, home-grown success stories like Patchwork Paté and so many others and we need to develop the skills in professional services so that they can be looked after by firms based locally to ensure they grow and prosper.”
Another speaker was Rufus Carter, commercial director of Ruthin-based Patchwork Pâté, now a local, national and international brand leader in hand-made pâté.
Also a regular guest on TV and radio food shows, he said latest research showed that pâté was now recognised as a “good time” food and was becoming a star of the “home assembly” food market catering for people with little time on their hands to quickly build their own tasty dishes at home.
He revealed how artisan food producers such as himself were obsessed with their brand name and detailed the effort which goes into marketing a new product, such as his company’s latest smooth chicken pâté.
Mr Carter also spoke about another pioneering product for the company which has just hit the shelves – what he reckons is the world’s first dairy-free chicken parfait.
He said: “We’d been approached by a chain of restaurants to come up with a chicken parfait that was silky smooth.
“We’d usually add butter but as we didn’t have any on the premises at that particular moment, we put in some margarine instead.
“I thought that we’d just come up with the first ever dairy-free chicken parfait and that’s exactly what we’d done.”
Mr Carter also told members about another new line, mushroom marmalade, which the company had developed to be a tasty accompaniment to what he said research showed was the new national dish, the burger.
For more information about Wrexham Business Professionals please email Kate Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 01978 752500