It never ceases to amaze me the variety and scale of businesses that are based across South Devon. We are already well known for our active farming, fishing and hospitality sectors. But we are also home to pharmaceutical companies, photonic start-ups, fintech businesses and oceanographic and hydrographic manufacturers to name but a few. Scratch the surface in any of our towns and you find incredible local businesses that operate across the area and export far beyond our shores.
Since becoming the Member of Parliament for Totnes and South Devon in 2019, it has been my good fortune to be able to visit many of these businesses. I have learnt first-hand about their products, their markets and their businesses objectives. All of them are creating jobs, opportunities and attracting investment into South Devon and the southwest. Despite the variety in these businesses and sectors, they predominantly share one common concern regarding future employees.
Rural communities across the country are often seen as retirement destinations rather than vibrant economic hubs. As a result, students pass through their school years with their eyes and hearts set firmly on moving to a big city for their employment needs.
As a result, local enterprises struggle to meet their staffing needs despite high salaries and the benefits of a great quality of life. Investment wanes and managers question whether they should up-sticks and move close to a major city.
Who can blame students for looking first at Bristol, Exeter and London before exploring their local job markets? They are not told otherwise and nor is there the engagement to open their eyes to the opportunities available locally.
It is for this reason that I have been visiting schools and colleges across South Devon to explore how they can become more engaged with local businesses. Already many do, but in some instances, there is a lack of integration between our schools and private enterprises. If we can change this and ensure that businesses are linked into our places of education, then we can help enhance courses to provide the skills needed for the jobs that are available in the area. Perhaps most importantly we can also raise awareness of what is on offer and help to broaden the horizons of every student.
This new level of cooperation should be an indefinite arrangement. Businesses should not only visit schools and explain what they do to pupils, but they should create active partnerships to develop the relationship in both directions. Providing taster work sessions, supporting developing projects, driving up investments and holding summits, there is a never-ending list of potential arrangements that would benefit all parties.
Such an approach, if formalised in South Devon, could work as the template for other parts of the country. But it can go further. This year, in cooperation with South Devon College and the southwest Local Enterprise Partnership I am organising a careers fair. This one-day event will bring year groups 12 & 13 from all schools in the constituency of Totnes and South Devon together to hear from local employers. It will provide insight and access to businesses that are based in South Devon and will help to remind those who are thinking about future job opportunities that there are strong local opportunities.
If you are a local business reading this article and would like to know more or get involved, please email me at email@example.com
I am proud of what is on offer in our region. As a local representative, I believe it is my job to be an ambassador for all those businesses based here. It is my mission to help promote and sell their services to both a domestic and international audience. In doing so I hope to be able to attract more investment and to create opportunities that will benefit residents as well as the national and local economy.