The importance of retail to the South Essex economy has been discussed at a special meeting held at Lakeside.
Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price, was invited to the round-table discussion on Friday, 29th October, at the Lakeside Training Centre, to hear how retail skills training is delivered in the shopping centre by South Essex College of Further and Higher Education and how it is proving a real boost to retail and retailers in the county.
Miss Doyle-Price met the college’s Vice Principal of Business Development, Carol Anson-Higgs and the head of the National Skills Academy for Retail, Jane Rexworthy at the Centre which has recently been refurbished and was relaunched in May.
Since then it has acted as a ‘one-stop shop’ to benefit employers, employees and those seeking to work in retail by delivering high quality training, advice and skills development. New additions to the wide offer of programmes from the National Skills Academy for Retail include the high profile introduction of retail guru Mary Portas’ master classes, endorsed by the popular star of BBC television’s Mary Queen of Shops programme.
The National Skills Academy for Retail oversees 40 retail skills shops, similar to the Lakeside model, up and down the country. This was the first time an MP had met for such a meeting anywhere in the country.
The discussion focused on the work of the Lakeside Training Centre to deliver nationally recognised qualifications to retail employees working in businesses of all sizes, from the multinational chains based at Lakeside, to the independent businesses in the towns across South Essex.
It was also an opportunity for Miss Doyle-Price to hear about the National Skills Academy for Retail’s model across the country and how it is well-placed to help the three million people who work in retail (10% of the entire UK workforce).
During her visit, the MP was also able to see retail training in action as she met three adult learners on the Skillsmart Retail Works pre-employment programme, aimed at giving them the skills and confidence to start on a career in retail.
Jackie Doyle-Price said: “Meeting representatives from South Essex College and the National Skills Academy for Retail showed me how retail skills are being addressed at a national level and here in Thurrock.
“There are lots of career opportunities in retail at all levels and it is important that we have support in place so that everyone is given the opportunity to train and gain qualifications.
“Lakeside is a major employer in this area, but at the same time, we cannot afford to forget the small, independent businesses on our high streets. I hope that South Essex College is able to engage with all our retail businesses across the area.”
Carol Anson-Higgs added: “The Training Centre forms a very important part of South Essex College because so many local people work in the retail sector. Over time, I can only see the Centre increase in activity and expand its offer, so to be able to show off what we are doing to our Member of Parliament is an important step on that path.”
Jane Rexworthy said: “We are very grateful that Jackie agreed to meet with us and talk about the importance of retail skills to her constituents. The presence of a huge shopping centre such as Lakeside means that retail is an integral part of the local economy, so having an MP who is well informed about the current issues, will only serve to benefit the local population.”
As part of the visit, Miss Doyle-Price also met members of the Lakeside management team, who discussed with her the history of the centre, its current importance and its future aspirations.
Lakeside General Manager Paul Lancaster said: “With 25 million people coming through our doors each year, it is important that we offer the highest levels of customer service, so having a dedicated Training Centre will only help to increase the skills throughout the centre.
“We celebrate our 21st birthday during 2011 and over the years we have enjoyed an exceptional relationship with our local community. It is important that our local Member of Parliament can see the hard work of the thousands of people who are employed at Lakeside.”