By Dominic Page, head of University of South Wales Business School

Business Schools have a fundamental role to play in the success, growth and sustainability of businesses and in the economic growth of their local region, and this is most significantly visible in the Newport and Blaenau Gwent regions of Wales. 

The development of this region represents a significant political and economic challenge. 

There are four key questions associated with economic growth which need to be considered. 

How can local businesses be supported in their ambitions in terms of growth; how can we develop a highly-skilled local labour market to ensure the region is attractive to new business; how can start-up entrepreneurs be supported in terms of becoming fast-growth firms; and finally, how can we improve the significant issues with productivity of firms in the region?

A 2016 TechNation report, highlighted that 59 per cent of firms in the South Wales region reported that the most significant challenge they faced in terms of growth was a limited supply of talent, and that more than 35 per cent of new talent was reported as being sourced from a university in a local cluster. 

However, with some of the lowest levels of participation in HE of any of the Welsh regions, Blaenau Gwent and Newport experience limitations in the availability of skilled workers. Developing a highly-skilled local labour market represents a key goal for the South Wales Business School (SWBS). 

Ensuring that a high-quality business education is accessible to young people, and is an attractive option, is vital to the growth of the region. 
Developing provision in partnership with business is one of our strategic priorities, and we are currently working with a number of local employers, including the Celtic Manor and Admiral (in partnership the South Wales Contact Centre Forum), to develop transformation study opportunities. 

New courses in Hotel and Hospitality Management and Strategic Customer Management directly respond to the demands of businesses in the region, developing highly skilled graduates who can address contemporary management challenges. 

As the majority of our students come from, and remain in the local region, the potential economic impact of USW for Newport and the surrounding area is significant. 

Universities have an important part to play in supporting start-ups and SMEs. Our Business School provides access for businesses to creative, innovative and entrepreneurial students. 

An example of this is our team of student business analysts working at the USW Exchange. 

This initiative provides opportunities for businesses to seek solutions to real business problems and access expertise from across the student and academic community. SMEs and start-ups in the region face challenges operating in markets which are dominated by a small number of large companies. 

In conjunction with USW Exchange, the Business School supports SMEs and start-ups during this growth phase, developing graduates with the ability to transform ideas into commercially viable products.

Entrepreneurial graduates offer SMEs the skills and talent to avoid the so-called ‘valley of death’, caused by limited access to financial and non-financial resources to commercialise products and services. 

The region also faces a significant productivity challenge. Investment in the development of highly skilled leaders and managers represents a solution to improving and addressing the low levels of productivity observed in South Wales. 

Universities must respond by developing flexible postgraduate and professional education, which aims to develop organisational management capabilities and secure the future success of business in the region. 

This is central to the current and future plans of the South Wales Business School, and is supported by the Welsh Government’s economic growth strategy, and the CBI’s call for an emphasis on ‘people’ and skill as a fundamental pillar in securing economic growth during a period of unprecedented environmental uncertainty.