MEU Upskills Thousands of Workers

Midlands Enterprise Universities have upskilled thousands of workers during the coronavirus pandemic, not just to help fill the acute staff shortages in the NHS but also to help businesses adapt to new ways of working.

In April Birmingham City University reopened its Seacole Building as a ‘skills hub’ to help students nearing the end of their studies, current NHS staff and returning employees to learn key techniques and skills needed in the frontline battle against coronavirus. University staff have been working closely with the skills teams in local NHS Trusts, especially University Hospitals Birmingham, to ensure the skills taught are in line with Trust requirements, and that their training makes the biggest impact in supporting patients. Approximately 95% of the university’s student nurses, in the last six months of their studies, offered their services for an extended placement with the health service and so far, over 270 have been trained.

Similarly, the University of Derby is providing free online training and information for pharmacists who have been redeployed to NHS 111 services. NHS England and NHS Improvement, in partnership with Health Education England (HEE), first commissioned the University of Derby to develop and deliver an Integrated Urgent Care Clinical Assessment Service (IUC CAS) pharmacist programme 18 months ago. The course aims to introduce pharmacists to the IUC setting. To support the rapid upskilling of pharmacists supporting the new NHS 111 COVID-19 CAS service, two of the course’s three modules have been made available online for free.

With more and more activities moving online because of the global health crisis, Midlands Enterprise Universities have also been upskilling businesses in the digital arena. De Montfort University Leicester surveyed 700 businesses and entrepreneurs to find out the issues concerning them most and have produced tailored support to address those topics, as well as collating and running an online hub for the latest business information. Their teams are running free webinars, online sessions and one-to-one business coaching to help people embed new business models and adapt to new ways of working. They have also launched the #DMUbusinesshour every week on Twitter to answer any questions businesses have and signpost them to available help.

Nottingham Trent University’s  UpScaler Project is delivering a series of lockdown support webinars for businesses, all based around crisis management and thinking forwards, covering themes including finance, performance management and reworking value propositions. As well as being able to share their experience and best practice with other leaders whose businesses are experiencing similar growth challenges, directors can also apply for a grant towards the cost of business coaching.

In Herefordshire more than 50 SMEs are set to benefit from a newly developed suite of workshops funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and The Marches Local Enterprise Partnership. The Cyber Quarter – Midlands Centre for Cyber Security, supported by the University of Wolverhampton’s Cyber Research Institute (WCRI), is delivering the online courses which will cover all aspects of cyber security, from managing a potential attack to building a resilient strategy. Later this year the university and Herefordshire Council are opening a new £9m cyber security centre of excellence which has been part-funded by the Government’s Local Growth Fund and the ERDF.

Another issue many organisations are facing because of coronavirus is employee mental health. As well as providing free online training for business owners in continuity management, Coventry University has launched a series of free webinars to help with the challenges of working remotely. The courses are part of the Thrive at Home initiative set up by the Government-funded Mental Health and Productivity Pilot (MHPP). Led by Coventry University in partnership with the University of Warwick, West Midlands Combined Authority and Mind (MHPP), the pilot is aimed at helping employers improve the mental health of their teams, thereby reducing absenteeism and presenteeism and increasing productivity.

Increasing economic growth and prosperity is one of the MEU’s key priorities and addressing the skills needs of employers is high on the agenda. During the pandemic, the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing has been offering free Functional Skills English and Maths courses for workers who are furloughed, working from home or self-isolating. The online sessions relate to their work and home life and participants can gain a university certificate or a nationally recognised qualification with City & Guilds. By offering opportunities for people to improve their skills, not just during the pandemic but throughout their lives, the MEU is also supporting the Government’s Industrial Strategy which aims to generate good jobs and greater earning power for all.

Professor Kathryn Mitchell, Chair of the MEU and Vice-Chancellor, University of Derby said universities are perfectly placed to support public and private sector organisations, particularly during times of crisis.

“As a partnership we recognise that Midlands Enterprise Universities has a strong role to play in the future prosperity of the region.

“The immediate threat to that prosperity is the global coronavirus pandemic and our partners have responded by bringing together their collective expertise to tackle some of the huge challenges businesses and public-sector organisations such as the NHS are facing.

“Equipping them with the skilled workforce they need or upskilling existing employees to be able to adapt to new ways of working will help them now and in the future.”