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Here To Help: Driving Economic Growth and Nurturing Business Success

In the ever-evolving landscape of business, fostering growth and building sustainable success requires strategic partnerships, tailored support, and a deep understanding of the challenges faced by local enterprises.

Enter Business Durham’s Business Engagement Team, a dynamic group of professionals dedicated to driving economic prosperity across County Durham. Here we find out how Hazel Sykes, one of the Business Engagement team, is bringing her wealth of experience in human resources, business development, and a proven track record of forging and nurturing vital relationships to propel businesses in the county forward. With a focus on skills and businesses in the south of the county, Hazel is committed to providing unparalleled support to local companies.

Tell us about your career background and experience prior to joining Business Durham.

Before joining Business Durham, I had a successful career as a seasoned professional in human resources (HR) and business development. With extensive experience in both the public and private sectors across various industries, I have spent the last 30 years forging and maintaining valuable relationships with business owners. My focus has been on attracting inward investment and providing ongoing support to indigenous companies. Throughout my career, I have demonstrated my ability to create and implement innovative initiatives to enhance the value proposition for inward investors. Leveraging my HR expertise and business engagement experience, I have consistently delivered creative solutions to drive business growth.

How did you secure your current role at Business Durham?

When the opportunity at Business Durham arose, it aligned perfectly with my plans to permanently relocate to the North-East. Having previously held a similar position at Business Doncaster, I knew that I possessed the necessary skill set for my current role. I am the key point of contact for businesses in South Durham working with businesses from areas such as Newton Aycliffe, Bishop Auckland and Barnard Castle. Initially, I served as the net-zero lead, which I found immensely rewarding. Subsequently, I transitioned into skills development and am currently Business Durham’s skills lead for the entire county.

What kind of support do you provide to local businesses?

Our approach is centered around understanding the unique challenges faced by local businesses. By delving deep into their needs and requirements, we can tailor our support accordingly. Whether it’s assistance with expansion or venturing into new markets, or attracting and retaining top-tier talent, our aim is to provide comprehensive support. We believe that nurturing existing businesses is just as crucial as attracting new investment to the area.

What are the key skills challenges currently faced by businesses?

A common concern among businesses is the difficulty in finding skilled talent at the right time. To address this issue, we collaborate closely with the North East Institute of Technology, a partnership between further education colleges, lead locally by New College Durham, universities, and businesses. This collaboration aims to develop high-level technical skills and qualifications that align with employers’ needs, both now and in the future. It presents an excellent opportunity for businesses to engage with education providers and identify the talent necessary to propel their organisations forward. We have worked with a wide range of businesses who are interested in skills development such as Ricor, Senstronics and BTS Facades & Fabrications and are keen to engage with more in the county. We also encourage businesses to prioritise efforts in attracting and retaining staff, mirroring the dedication they put into acquiring and retaining customers. By considering the skills required not only presently but also in the next three-to-five years, businesses can effectively execute their expansion plans. Additionally, we recognise the importance of educating schoolchildren, teachers, and parents about the plethora of remarkable businesses in our vicinity and the diverse range of career opportunities available to young people.

How do you adapt your support to assist businesses during challenging times?

At Business Durham, we understand the importance of actively listening to our businesses. While factors like Covid, Brexit and supply chain challenges have impacted all businesses, we recognise that each business faces unique circumstances. Our approach is to provide timely and adaptable support, ensuring we are there as a reliable point of contact regardless of the specific issue. By staying informed and engaged in finding relevant support programs, we can effectively match the needs of businesses with the available resources. Whether a business aims to expand, innovate, or embrace decarbonisation, we encourage them to reach out to our team and take advantage of the support that awaits them. What do you find most rewarding about working for Business Durham? The most rewarding aspect of working for Business Durham is the diversity and richness of the job. I am fortunate to live and work in a rural, picturesque part of the county, and the enthusiasm of the individuals I meet is truly special. Our county boasts a wide range of businesses that serve as key drivers of the local economy. With notable strengths in sectors such as manufacturing, construction, engineering, and automotive, there is much to be optimistic about when observing the local business landscape.

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At Business Durham, we believe that sharing positive news stories about successful businesses in County Durham is important for fostering a supportive and thriving business community. We want to encourage business owners to send us their success stories so that we can share them on our website and celebrate their achievements. We are committed to promoting the county as a great place to do business and providing a platform for businesses to showcase their successes.

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