General election 2015: Develop Training CEO Chris Wood – I’m voting as…

Whether it is access to finance or helping companies hire more staff, business leaders around the UK have contrasting agendas.

For business services executive Chris Wood, it’s a case of the government realising that more needs to be done to sort out the skills gap in existence.

Who are you and what does your business do?

I’m Chris Wood, CEO of Develop Training – a UK provider of accredited compliance, technical, and safety training. Our clients include some of the UK’s largest organisations from utilities and construction to defence, healthcare and facilities management.

We employ more than 100 people in five dedicated training centres in Scotland, York, Derby, Bolton and Swindon, and we also deliver training at clients’ premises. We provide people with the skills to safely manage vital work such as pipe laying that provides the country’s essential services, and we are heavily involved in helping clients to set up and manage apprenticeship programmes.

How has your business changed over the last five years?

Thanks to an ageing workforce, the UK faces a fairly catastrophic skills shortage in the sectors where our clients operate so we have responded with new initiatives such as working with clients to introduce apprenticeships. We’ve also brought in younger trainers to help attract young people into these industries, encouraged people retiring from client companies to become trainers and cross-skilled people from one sector to another.

New regulations in the gas and water industries have introducing new kinds of training, the latest example being Asset Management Programme 6 for the water sector. We have also been pioneering e-portfolios, replacing the heavyweight paper accreditation documentation that trainees used to have to carry with video and other digital evidence.

What are your growth plans for the next five years?

Develop Training’s roots stretch back three decades, and we have a strong reputation in the industries where we work. I joined the company last year at a time when the business needed a new direction. Its customer base had been diluted with the addition of large numbers of small clients and a loss of focus on the major utilities and infrastructure companies where we are able to compete for higher value contracts.

These organisations are under immense pressure to train the next generation of workers, and this provides us with an opportunity to respond to genuine client needs and to significantly grow the business. Responding to that opportunity is our growth plan.

What kind of government would you like to see elected?

One that recognises when the country is storing up problems and responds with coherent action. Nowhere is that more vital than in our looming skills crisis. The next government must address the issue of training and development in mainstream industrial sectors, possibly through enhanced funding opportunities or other incentives. 

Much talk is made of workplace schemes, such as apprenticeships, but these do not go far enough. I want the government to be tough. For instance, it should hold to account the ultimate owners of privatised utility companies to provide a trained workforce in the future.

Read other “I’m voting as…” features:

Do you think government in general is doing enough to support businesses of your size?

There is much government support for small and high-growth businesses. Meanwhile, big business gets attention because of its disproportionate influence on the economy. Businesses of our size are largely left to get on with it. So we welcome announcements in the last Budget of support but more would be welcome.

It’s understandable that governments are seduced by high technology, but they should remember the basic utilities too because without them, most new technology can’t work. Support for training companies such as ourselves, and incentives for the utility companies, to address the skills gap are overdue.

Has the impending general election caused any uncertainty regarding how you run your company?

Not yet. The economy is improving, and organisations have training budgets to spend. The desperate need for more skilled people to join the industries where our clients operate is also driving our business forward, as are changes in regulations and initiatives such as the introduction of nationwide smart metering that require people to be trained and accredited.

I do worry about what a long-term hung parliament or a dubious coalition would do to business confidence and the economy.

In one sentence, please finish this line: “I’m voting as…”

I’m voting as CEO of a training company tackling the looming skills crisis in UK industry from where it’s clear to see the next government must stimulate major companies to invest in an entire new generation of workers and find a way to inspire young people to choose careers in these vital sectors.

Read more from our General election 2015 focus:

Do you agree with Chris Wood? Is there anything you’d like to add? Please let us know in the comments box below.

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