Ensuring Lancashire has the skills it needs to drive its economy is crucial if it is to continue to thrive, according to the head of one of its top colleges.

Dr Lis Smith, Principal and Chief Executive at Preston’s College, said there had been a rise in the number of firms having difficulty recruiting when compared with the end of 2016.

The Quarterly Economic Survey, conducted by the county’s three Chambers of Commerce, showed this trend was led by the manufacturing sector with 65% of businesses struggling to fill roles with manual and technical requirements.

Preston’s College is sponsoring the Employer of the Year category at this year’s Be Inspired Business Awards, the BIBAs, which gets underway with its second round of judging next week.

Dr Smith said: “The research shows that almost half of businesses in Lancashire are looking to recruit, they just cannot find the right skills.

“In this latest study it is manufacturers which are finding it hardest but we know service businesses are finding it equally difficult to find the right people. That’s why we built and equipped our £13m iSTEM Education & Training Centre and why we continue to invest in areas like accountancy, recently winning a national award from AAT

“In construction and engineering, 36,000 new workers are needed every year just to cover the deficit, so it is up to us in the education sector to do all we can to support businesses.”

Preston’s College works alongside businesses through its ROI Solutions team, delivering bespoke training, apprenticeships, professional development programmes, e-learning and higher education courses.

Dr Smith added: “Businesses in Lancashire are recognising the need to act to secure long-term productivity and investment which means not only recruiting the right skills, but growing and investing in people when they are with them.

“Being a good employer is all about recognising the value your people can bring and doing everything you can to help grow that.”

Next Monday (June 19), the BIBAs launches its second round of judging which sees the panels which will select its winners hit the road to visit the finalists in each of its 18 awards categories.

The ‘BIBAs on Tour’ round of judging get underway with the Exporter of the Year category visiting its finalists and continues until July 12 when the Business of the Year judges go on tour.

Last September, the winners of the BIBAs included Mike Peters, the founder of Universal Products Limited, who won the lifetime achievement award, Lancastrian of the Year, and Altham furniture firm, The Senator Group, which was named Business of the Year.

Chorley financial planning firm True Bearing and Lytham’s Excel Fostering both collected two prizes at last year’s awards.