5th February 2024

Trudy Morris, Chief Executive, Caithness Chamber of Commerce: Investing in the young workforce supports the whole of the North Highlands.

As we welcome the new year, businesses continue to face immense pressure. The UK economy is still fragile, and the risk of recession remains. Businesses that have persevered through the long COVID recovery and subsequent hardships that followed, are again confronted with a difficult year ahead. Recent studies have warned that insolvencies will continue to increase and could reach a 20-year high in 2024[1], which is a serious cause for concern for the wider business community and at a local level.

According to the latest results published by the Scottish Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Economic Indicator, Q4 2023, it is clear Scotland’s economy is stuck in a low growth cycle. Persistently high inflation, higher borrowing costs, frozen investment and ongoing global uncertainty are placing businesses under significant pressure, while skills shortages and the availability of talent continue to act as major barriers to business expansion.

Despite the difficult conditions and unfavourable economic environment, it is inspiring to see that businesses in the North Highlands are committed to nurturing and supporting the young workforce. 2023 marked a significant milestone for the Caithness Business Fund, as it celebrated the support it has provided for 20 local apprenticeships in the Caithness and North Sutherland region. Significantly, 50% of these awards were made within the last 12 months. That’s 10 young people taking their first steps into the world of work, and what’s more, they have the opportunity to stay and work in our local area whilst gaining valuable skills and training in the workplace. Great news for both North Highland businesses and communities, especially at a time when ageing and shrinking populations are a major concern.

Investing in and supporting local talent and skills is not only a smart business decision, but also a long-term investment in the future of the North Highlands, our collective well-being, and the resilience of our economy and communities. These apprenticeships are a promising sign that despite the challenges, businesses are stepping up to support our young workforce.

Eligible SMEs can access grant awards of up to £5,000 for support with apprenticeships and associated training costs, intended to help ‘level up’ access to support smaller businesses to take on apprentices. I would encourage anyone interested in exploring this for their business to get in touch, the Chamber is here to help you through the process.

Signposting businesses to opportunities for funding support is just one of the ways the Chamber can help your business. From our lobbying and policy work to our business support mentoring programme, we offer a unique opportunity to access expert knowledge, advice and network opportunities. Through collaborative working with our partners, Caithness Chamber of Commerce connects businesses locally, nationally, and internationally with decision-makers and opportunities, leading the drive to promote the North Highlands as open for business.

The Chamber team has also been incredibly busy in recent weeks, actively organising the “Caithness Jobs and How to Get Them” jobs fair, which will take place 3rd February in East Caithness Community Facility, Wick.

We had fantastic feedback from last year’s event which show­cased 43 local and national exhibitors and attracted over 300 visitors from right across the career spectrum. This year’s event is on track to follow in its success. We have been overwhelmed by the positive response from local business leaders and it is fantastic to see everyone committed to supporting the initiative.

Navigating the future with Focus North, Peter Faccenda, Focus North Programme Manager.

It is true that there are currently some significant economic headwinds which are affecting all of us in both our business and personal lives. Whilst there are short term challenges it’s worth remembering the medium to long term opportunities that are gathering pace in our region. Over the next 15 to 20 years, we will be undertaking one of the biggest changes in the way we power our society with Caithness and Sutherland at the centre of this revolution.

In her introduction Trudy spoke about the exciting developments for supporting apprentices, and Focus North’s goal is to build on that. As we enter a new era of job creation, we must support our young people to adapt and be at the forefront of the region’s innovation. Offshore wind developments alone would provide a wide variety of career opportunities, requiring a range of skills from engineers to ecologists, divers to data processors, managers to mariners. To add to this there are opportunities in the space industry, and the vital need to restore up to 180,000 hectares of Peatlands in the Flow country supported by environmental scientists and a range of land-based jobs. There are huge opportunities across the region with high value, future facing jobs and real change is underway to make sure young people, local businesses and the supply chain are prepared for it and will benefit from it.

Following a successful launch in 2023, we’re currently preparing for the Focus North Conference ’24 where attendees will have the chance to hear from industry leaders who will share their expertise and vision for the future of Caithness and Sutherland. There will be an opportunity to participate in an interactive panel session and gain knowledge of future opportunities focused on growing, developing and diversifying a sustainable economy in the north of mainland Scotland.

Keep an eye out for further details about the event which is taking place on the 19 March 2024 at the Norseman Hotel, Wick from 9.30 – 14.30.  We’re looking forward to a day packed with inspiring speakers, engaging topics, and valuable networking opportunities.

[1] https://www.forbesburton.com/news/two-separate-studies-warn-of-tough-2024-for-uk-businesses

Got a good news story you’d like to share? Get in touch with the Chamber today!

E: info@caithnesschamber.com
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