An organisation set up to help bridge the skills gap in West Cumbria is preparing to expand its work across the county.

All Together Cumbria, which is based at the Papcastle Depot, near Cockermouth, was set up in April 2018 by a group of local employers.

The organisation is a social enterprise community interest company owned by Morgan Sindall Infrastructure, but with a management committee made up of Jacobs, Morgan Sindall Infrastructure and Sellafield Ltd.

Social enterprise manager Sarah MacGregor said it acted as a coordinator, helping to connect people who were looking for work with local support organisations and training providers and then helping them to find work with employers.

All Together Cumbria creates an income through its recruitment brokerage service, by working with local recruitment agencies and businesses to find the right person for their organisation.

“Each vacancy filled through our brokerage generates a rebate payment from the agencies’ profit margin and then any surplus made is then invested back into the community, which enables us to develop a more sustainable local workforce,” says Sarah.

“We invest in making sure that in the future both the recruitment agencies and businesses operating locally have a larger resource pool to choose from.”

She says currently there is a lot of “employability service provision” across the county with various levels of support available.

The organisation works with people to connect them to employers and bridge the skills gap.

“We work to provide a collaborative, simplified employability support system that provides greater visibility and access, ensuring the right help at the right time,” says Sarah.

“Having this coordinated collective impact approach, we ensure greater value through every pound spent.

“It’s not just about getting people into work, it’s about their career journey and lifestyle and taking into account things like mental health, wellbeing and their family needs as well.”

Although the main focus of the organisation is on having a social impact, Sarah says this automatically has a positive effect for employers.

“We speak with industry, we speak with the community and we speak with the provision providers that work with under-represented groups and unemployed people,” she says.

“We understand the landscape.

“With the surplus we generate, we work to co-ordinate and invest to make sure every individual has access to opportunity.”

She says working with the social enterprise helps smaller businesses to achieve greater social impact value and alignment in the local community, which can be important when tendering for business.

One initiative All Together Cumbria has recently been involved in is the setting up of the Copeland Community Skills Centre at HMP Haverigg, near Millom.

The project has secured the support of organisations City and Guilds, Gen2, Morgan Sindall Infrastructure and Sunbelt Rentals.

Sarah says the move came after the prison was downgraded to a category D “open prison”.

“There are a lot of people at that prison with a whole array of skills and talents,” she says.

“They need support to integrate into the local community and gain employment.”

Sarah visited the prison management and identified an area of land which both local people and residents at the prison can access.

“We’re developing a skills centre in partnership with industry,” she said.

“But it’s not just the large organisations who can get involved, actually it’s an opportunity for everyone to get involved, including SMEs and third-sector organisations. We can all work together to resolve a number of local employability and training issues.”

Although the organisation was initially set up in West Cumbria, Sarah says it has ambitions to expand to cover the rest of the county.

“West Cumbria is our focus, but once we’ve proven capability and got those mechanisms in place, we will look at further expanding across Cumbria,” she says.

She hopes the sectors it works with – primarily made up of firms working in infrastructure and nuclear at the present – will also expand.

“We need to have manufacturing and hospitality and tourism around the table too, those are other key industries that need to be around the table with us talking,” she said.

She said she only expected its work to become even more important as people were left out of work due to the coronavirus crisis.