In conversation with Daniel Fell: improving skills, raising aspirations, and supporting local business

Four years ago the Doncaster Skills Academy was created to address the ‘skills gap’ between business and education. How far has the academy gone regarding this and what does it have planned to keep closing the gap?

The Doncaster Skills Academy is the Chamber’s vehicle for engaging closely with the education sector in our borough to help raise aspirations, promote work readiness and improve the quality of careers advice available to young people.  In the last four years we have been privileged to work with and support in excess of 25,000 young people.  This has been made possible by the local business community that gives it time and energy incredibly generously.  Moving forwards we will be working extremely closely with the Careers and Enterprise Company’s Careers Hub to deliver a singular plan for our locale, this will also include building an ever closer alliance of core partners that have a long term commitment to our place to ensure joined up thinking and maximised resource.  Our aim is to move this activity out of the Chamber into a new special purpose vehicle or charitable entity within a few years.

Public sector organisations have demonstrated ways to successfully attract and foster talent, but how do you think they should approach retaining this talent?

The Chamber of Commerce is obviously a private sector organisation.  We actually struggle to compete on salaries with a lot of our public-sector partner organisations and I have become fairly sanguine about the fact that I will, from time to time, lose great talent to some of our closet public-sector partners.  Ultimately that’s fine as they stay within a virtual team.  In common with public sector organisations, we are able to recruit people based on their values and commitment to improving lives, places and economies.  I am fortunate enough to work with some amazing people in the public sector – particularly at Doncaster MBC – and this includes those that have been with their employers for decades.  I think for those colleagues they get an amazing sense of satisfaction from seeing a place develop and transform over time and, consequently, it feels like they’re in it for the long haul.  Otherwise, inspiring leadership and a large degree of autonomy also helps.

To what extent is Doncaster Chamber championing the Apprenticeship Levy?

We get extremely mixed feedback about the apprenticeship levy from employers in Doncaster.  Many employers – including large firms that are sophisticated and have a good level of HR and training resource – feedback that it is very bureaucratic and that it has slowed down great work that they were going to do anyway.  Others feedback that it has provided a cost effective way of investing in their workforce.  Over and above championing any particular scheme or initiative, the Chamber champions a robust dialogue between our local business and community and the education sector.  Our role is to get providers and colleges into a meaningful dialogue with local businesses, it’s then our job to get out of the way and let subject matter experts build relationships and deliver elegant solutions – which may or may not include the levy.

What will be your priorities for Doncaster Chamber moving into 2019?

Our vision is to be the best Chamber of Commerce in the UK and we will keep working towards that aim.  That means being a Chamber of Commerce that is delivering results for our business community, our partners and our place.  We have played a big leadership role in getting approval to open a University Technical College in Doncaster and we will be cracking on with that in earnest as we aspire to open the UTC in September 2020.  Thereafter, we’ll be working with partners to do some heavy lifting in relation to lobbying for infrastructure investment into the area and to regenerate our town centre.  We are also putting a big emphasis on culture and creative industries as we want to keep improving Doncaster as a liveable city.  Thereafter, we’ll be ensuring that local firms have high quality business support services and that we are doing everything possible to ready local businesses for Brexit, whatever form it takes.

Daniel Fell is the Chief Executive at Doncaster Chamber, and will be speaking on frontier planning and labour shortage management, at the Public Sector Solutions Expo on 20 November. To register or find out more, please click here.