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The voices of diverse SMEs: ESF-funded High Level Skills programme shares data about impact on SMEs

The High Level Skills programme is delivered by the High Level Skills Consortium, which is made up of Nottingham Trent University, Derby College, Nottingham College, the University of Derby, and Nottingham City Council.

Professor Monder Ram OBE
Professor Monder Ram OBE, director of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entreneurship (CREME)

On Tuesday 17 November, the High Level Skills programme (HLS), which is part-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF), held an event targeted at local education and training providers to share details of the programme’s impact on local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and their employees.

The event, ‘Voices of diverse SMEs: Improving the labour market relevance of education and training systems’, was delivered virtually over Microsoft Teams and saw 44 participants take part from across the education and training landscape in D2N2 (Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire).

Followed by an introduction from Dr Jeremy Hague, Director of Knowledge Exchange at Nottingham Trent University, Professor Monder Ram OBE, Director of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME) at Aston University gave a keynote talk.

Titled ‘The contribution of ethnic minority entrepreneurs, and the challenges and opportunities for business support providers’, Professor Ram discussed the impact and role that ethnic minority-led businesses have on local economies, the risks of categorising these businesses as ‘other’, and some of the reasons why they may or may not engage with business support programmes.

Of particular interest was around the need to change the narrative. Professor Ram said: “Too often we think about disadvantage, a lack, a deficit model. Yet, the largest ever piece of work referenced highlights that ethnic minority businesses are more likely to grow, trade and be international than any other business. I know that NTU and Aston University have a shared commitment to pursue high quality research in this area and utilise it to make a difference.”

Professor Ram linked this to data, citing the publication of a report by CREME – Unlocking Opportunity: The Value of Ethnic Minority Businesses – which has been published by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). He subsequently fielded questions from the audience and delved deeper into good examples of how providers can engage with ethnic minority businesses, and the intersection between BAME business leaders and other protected characteristics such as sex/gender, age, and socioeconomic background.

Following Professor Ram’s keynote, Andria Birch, HLS Programme Manager, then presented the key messages and headline data from co-design activity undertaken with over 500 SMEs in the D2N2 area in 2019/20.

Andria said: “High Level Skills co-design work comes in a range of formats including workshops, round tables and one to one sessions to suit diverse SMEs with different needs and capacity. It is all about putting SME voice at the heart of curriculum, course and business support development and it has been one of the golden threads running throughout the HLS programme

“It has been really positive to see how much SMEs value the opportunity to get involved in co-design  This results in higher engagement levels and more meaningful impact on the development of skills and talent for the SMEs and their workforce.”

Following the event, Jeremy Hague said: “I am pleased that the event provided an opportunity to reflect upon the successful work of the High Level Skills Consortium.

“The data generated through our joint work, is helping us to identify ‘what works’ and to highlight areas for strengthening our reach and developing new approaches to programme delivery.”

Stay up-to-date with the High Level Skills programme and our findings

Over the coming weeks and months, we will be conducting a series of ongoing communications to disseminate the impact of the High Level Skills programme.

A series of reports will be published following the event to enable other providers to dig deeper into the data and build on our findings and what works.

If you wish to be added to our dissemination mailing list, and to be invited to future events, please email to request this.

Further resources and useful reading

This support is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund

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