Shropshire business school can become a real 'national asset'

The head of a school’s ambitious business department wants to transform it into a “national asset” as he laid out his plans to help tackle the recruitment challenges companies are currently facing.

Wrekin College’s Business School
Wrekin College’s Business School

Darren Blanch, who became director of Wrekin College’s Business School in September, wants to boost the employability skills of its students to make sure they are work ready when they come to leave and seek employment.

It comes as many businesses across a wide range of sectors have reported struggles to fill job vacancies as well as retain staff.

Mr Blanch, who has been teaching for about 10 years and owns his own consulting business, said: “I thought this was a fantastic opportunity to further develop a business school which is similar to a university business school, with its own set of agendas about promoting employability and boosting the employability of our students.

"It is not just about promoting employability within our students though, but also by identifying what those employability skills need to be for local employers and eventually national employers as well.

“Within days of starting I was talking to local employers who were saying they were having major problems with recruitment, particularly in Shropshire where young people go to university or do an apprenticeship and often don’t come back. They really struggle to get the people with the right skills to fill the vacancies they have.”

One of the initiatives Mr Blanch is looking to launch is a new qualification which will be rolled out nationally.

“I am in the middle of writing an employability qualification which our students will get and hopefully we can roll out to other schools as well to promote employability in the local community,” he said. “This would be a two/three-year programme and at the end of it you would come out of it with an employability qualification which would match the needs of local communities.

“I have created an ideal employability skills profile. You’ve got everything that people already talk about - ICT, numeracy and communication, but around that we are getting people saying we need other things such as leadership, self-determination and self-reliance.

“One of the things we are looking at is diversity in the workplace as well as hybrid working and so on. We’re also developing modules that focus on using social media in the workplace.

“We hope to have some of our students go through it in September at the latest, but we are already piloting some core modules.”

The Wrekin College Business School opened in January 2017 and has provided pupils with an environment in which they can immerse themselves in the world of business.

Opened by one of Britain's best-known entrepreneurs, Nick Wheeler of Charles Tyrwhitt, it has hosted numerous skills initiatives, boot camps on employability, talks, and workshops by leaders across various industries and sectors for both pupils and visitors.

Mr Blanch said: “Wrekin students are fabulously busy, they do all sorts of things. I was out with them as part of the Duke of Edinburgh learning leadership skills and organisational skills – very much employability.

“Some of the students run a mobile coffee shop out of the business school. We’re looking to be an incubator in that sense. We’re talking to a lot of students who are looking to start businesses online, podcasting, all sorts of things.

“My vision is taking this from a very strong business department in Wrekin College to making it an asset which is nationally recognised.”

Mr Blanch added: “This is one of the most exciting business departments I have worked for and the school wants to go even further than that. I am very optimistic this is a school where what I want us to achieve is possible and where we will be able to make it part of the Wrekin experience.”

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