Businesses must continue to invest in skills during the tough times to ensure they are ready to reap the rewards in the good times, a leading Lancashire academic has said.

Dr Lis Smith, Principal and CEX at Preston’s College, said firms in the county could not afford to allow a skills gap in key professions to widen and had to focus on not only recruiting new staff but ensuring they upskill their existing workforce.

Key sectors including engineering, technology and manufacturing are among the areas where a shortage of skilled labour has been highlighted as an issue at a national level.

Preston’s College is one of a number of high-profile sponsors of this year’s Be Inspired Business Awards, the BIBAs, one of Lancashire’s leading business awards to celebrate the achievements of firms in the county.

Dr Smith said: “The ‘skills gap’ is a buzzword which we hear so often in everyday life, businesses could be forgiven for thinking it is something they do not need to worry about.

“In reality, it is a challenge facing all parts of society, whether that is parents seeking bright, secure futures for their children, businesses needing skilled workers both now and in the future and educators who recognise we are charged with delivering these people.

“Just last year, Preston’s College has opened facilities dedicated to developing construction skills and our iSTEM Centre which is purpose-built to deliver skills required for our advanced engineering and manufacturing industries.”

The construction skills centre opened at Preston’s College last year was jointly funded by Bamber Bridge-based building firm, the Eric Wright Group, and Dr Smith said this investment showed what could be achieved when business and educators work together.

She added: “We have a strong track record in working with businesses to deliver the skills they need to continue to grow and to strengthen our economy.

“It is vital we continue these partnerships if we are to deliver opportunities for our young people and to achieve our mission of creating THE most employable learners.”

Preston’s College is sponsoring the Employer of the Year category at this year’s BIBAs, with finalists including Chorley’s ROQ IT, Fat Media from Lancaster and Lytham-based Excel Fostering.

The annual awards has selected the winners of the 19 prizes which will be handed out at its prize-giving ceremony at The Blackpool Tower on Friday, September 16.

Its judging panels have selected the winners of its 17 main prize categories while winners have also been selected for its Most Inspiring Young Person Award and its lifetime achievement prize, Lancastrian of the Year.

The Most Inspiring Young Person Award winner has been selected from names put forward by successful applications to its BIBAs Foundation, the awards’ charitable arm set up to award grants to groups behind youth enterprise.

This award was selected by a panel made up of Foundation sponsor, BAE Systems, the Community Foundation for Lancashire, which runs the charity with the BIBAs, and current Lancastrian of the Year, Ian Hall, chairman of Preston-based retail group, James Hall and Sons.