In November 2020, British retailer Debenhams announced it was going into administration. In January 2021 Kirsty Mottram, Partnership Coordinator for Skills Support for Redundancy (SSR) in Devon and Somerset, joined up with the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Somerset & West Taunton Council, the Department for Work and Pensions and National Careers Service, to form the Debenhams Redundancy Taskforce Team. The aim was to provide collaborative support to those being affected by the closure of Debenhams in Somerset.
When Debenhams began the liquidation process, the taskforce commenced support for Debenhams’ head office in Taunton & the Taunton store.
Kirsty met with Debenhams’ Taunton Store Manager, Senior HR Administrator from Head Office and the Local Enterprise Partnership to set the scene as to what was happening and how SSR could support the staff at the Taunton store and head office who were at risk of redundancy.
A skills questionnaire which had been developed by Debenhams head office highlighted the need for digital, employability, resilience, and IT skills support.
Kirsty along with CMN, one of Serco’s expert training providers who carry out the training for Skills Support for Redundancy, developed a package of bespoke training to address the digital and IT skills needs identified by the skills questionnaire.
As the SSR programme is co-financed by the Education & Skills Funding Agency and European Social Fund, the staff were able to access the training at no cost to themselves or Debenhams.
To date 11 individuals have already received this training. The training has enabled these individuals to become familiar with using technology for interviews and has given them basic IT skills which has allowed them to become more confident applying for jobs and attending virtual interviews, and it has also improved their employability prospects.
Kim Trump, an employee of Debenhams, explains how the training has benefited her:
“The courses provided by CMN were exactly what I needed to build my confidence when using the different types of technology. The flexibility and fun nature of the course allowed us to interact and ask questions.
l was made to feel very much at ease and none of my questions were made to make me feel stupid. Lisa not only delivered the session, but she also supported me in how to use WhatsApp with transferring links to my email, so I could access our staff meetings.
My next step is to develop my CV and look for future work. Should I have to attend an interview online, Lisa has offered to do a refresher on Teams or Zoom if required, so that technology does not phase me on the day.”
Lisa Hutchings, Skills Manager at CMN, adds:
“Working closely with the Taunton Store Manager, I developed a bespoke package of learning for employees, which included Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Word and Excel. The sessions were delivered online, and at a pace which suited all, as their skills were at a very basic level.
Throughout the sessions, it was evident and great to see that all learners grew in confidence, using the technology with me, but also more importantly are now using it independently to access staff meetings and to develop their CVs, ready for the future.”
Once the training has been completed individuals will be offered the opportunity to be referred onto NCS to receive impartial advice, careers guidance and employability skills support, and DWP for benefits advice where appropriate. This will continue the circle of support between the different organisations.
Throughout this process, information and updates have been shared within the redundancy task force to enable successful collaborative working for the benefit of the Debenhams employees.
Clare Filer, Taunton Store Manager, says:
“Serco have been a great support in helping to arrange training for the team, even in these very unique circumstances of having to do everything virtually. Having spoken to many members of the store team, I know that quite a few have made contact with someone from the team, and the feedback has been that you guys are so friendly and helpful, so thank you!”
Serco are now supporting other Debenhams sites across the region, with Kirsty now engaging with Devon County Council and Exeter Works in preparation to support the Exeter branch.