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Exclusive Interview: Tom Wood, CEO of RWA and My Development Zone

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Tom Wood RWABusiness News Wales has interviewed, Tom Wood, CEO of RWA and My Development Zone. He talks us about enhancing business and employment skills, and his passion for role development and growing the economy. He also shares his plans for the future, top tips for success and the importance of engagement between business and education.

Can you give our readers a little background into yourself and your role within RWA?

I am the CEO of RWA and My Development Zone. RWA is one of the leading compliance and business consultancies in the UK general insurance market. My Development Zone is a ground breaking online platform designed to enhance business and employability skills across a wide range of sectors.

I was a winner at the Leading Wales Awards in 2014, and in 2016, the company was selected to be part of the Wales Digital Dozen, highlighting the 12 companies in Wales that were predicted to make the most impact in the digital space in Wales.

The company is based in Blaenavon in the South Wales Valleys.

I’m passionate about skills development and the role that employees and business leaders play in growing a business and the economy. We can all make small or big changes to the way in which we do things that will make us more profitable, smarter, more creative, more innovative, more mindful and more willing to improve the communities within which we live and work.

What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?

Five years is really a short-term plan for us. We are building for the future and even starting to think about a sustainability plan for the next 15 years. Change is inevitable and our focus is always on thinking forward and solving the problems of today. We have just invested in a new Head Office within Blaenavon which will give us the room to continue our growth and to give our people the tools to become more productive which will benefit our clients and customers.

We see skills development as a key driver for growth and the My Development Zone system that we have designed and built is already engaging thousands of employees across different sectors to help them improve skills and productivity.

Wales forms an important part of our plans. If we can help get more schools and businesses engaged in skills development and entrepreneurialism, then we can help plan for a better and more productive long-term future for the country. It is not a short-term solution and effecting change at this level is both an enormous challenge, but also a great opportunity that needs more and more people & stakeholders to work together and support.

The company also has international ambitions. Employee engagement and productivity is a global problem and we are already in discussions about taking our skills development solutions to a number of regions such as Canada, The USA, Europe and Africa.

What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?

Build a clear strategy, define your culture, develop a strong and capable team, and know when to delegate.

What are your top three tips for success?

1: Embed your culture, vision and values in everything you deliver.

2: Look after your people and your customers and they will look after you.

3: Develop your people; this is a fantastic way to grow your business.

Are there any innovations within your sector that you believe should be adopted by the wider Welsh market?

If your people are skilled and have the right knowledge, then they will add tremendous value, deliver a great service and promote your business to your customers. Learning is innate and we continue learning and developing daily. For the Welsh market to grow, schools need to better develop the workers of the future and businesses need to invest in the personal and professional development of their people. Innovations in e-Learning are facilitating that change and bringing skills development to a whole new audience.

If every school and business in Wales signed up to My Development Zone, then the knowledge and skills of young people and the Welsh workforce would be greatly enhanced and we would have a community of lifelong learners who see the value in continuous skills development. This is what drives us as a company.

Do you foresee any issues that Welsh business will be facing in the short/medium/long term?

For long term success, there needs to be a long-term sustainability plan that everyone buys in to, which sets out a clear plan for the next fifteen to twenty years. We believe that if Welsh businesses worked more closely together to develop the communities within which they operate, then we can effect a significant positive change at all levels. I would consider everybody who lives, works, or is educated in Wales to be a stakeholder and we all have our part to play. We have to create a future and legacy in Wales that our children are proud of and want to be a part of.

Do you have any predictions in regards to the impact of Brexit on your sector?

Brexit is going to be challenging; however, with every challenge comes opportunity. As a company, we have been preparing for Brexit for the last twelve months. Until it is resolved there will be uncertainty, and the next two years will be interesting. With or without Brexit, we believe skills development is still vitally important and we are ready to meet this challenge.

What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?

I genuinely believe we would not have had the success we have had today if we had not been based in Wales and in the location we are in. We are surrounded by stunning scenery, have great people working for us, have affordable overheads and the support of the local council and business community who all want to work collectively to support the growth of our region. It’s a place where we can grow sustainably and continue to provide jobs and to develop our people and our community.

I travel around the UK for my work and what always makes me feel positive about Wales is the amount of open space we have. Within all this space are pockets of communities of who are passionate about where they live and work and you find so many creative ideas and businesses that we do not hear enough about.

One of Wales’ weaknesses is a Cardiff-centric attitude and identity, which does little to promote other regions of the country. There is a lot of great stuff happening outside of Cardiff that people don’t get to hear about. We have shown that you do not need to base your business in the city to be successful, and there are plenty of opportunities for other companies to do the same.

What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?

It needs to focus on the positive things such as quality of life, lower overheads, the skills base, etc. Furthermore, the Welsh Government and the media need to help raise the profile of businesses outside of the core conurbations. Wales is very good at promoting tourism and its attractiveness as a place to visit, but I don’t see the same level of promotion to showcase Wales as a place to live, to work, and to build communities and futures.

I was at Paddington Station recently, and noticed that whilst there were adverts promoting Wales, its only focus was Cardiff; there’s something misguided about that. There are huge opportunities outside of Cardiff which would make a great investment for someone looking to grow and develop. When I talk to clients who are expanding in England and opening new offices in different towns, I ask whether Wales was something they might have considered and the majority admit it wasn’t something they had even thought about. The messages coming out of Wales are not working.

What skills should the education system be promoting to the next generation?

If you speak to educational leaders, they will tell you that vocational skills are equally as important to core skills, yet with little government support in this area, the workforce and entrepreneurs of tomorrow are struggling with the transition from education into the workplace. We see all the messages promoting coding and digital innovation as key skills for the future, but if our young people do not understand the basics such as how to write a CV, how to understand customer needs, how to conduct themselves in work and even the need to understand the simple terms of an employment contract, then business growth is going to continue to be stifled.

This is one of the reasons we built My Development Zone, to help bridge the gap between the world of education and the world of work.

How important is it for there to be a close relationship between business and higher education in Wales?

It’s essential.

I think business leaders need to be engaged to a greater extent with education, to help set the agenda for skills requirements and the development of core vocational skills. If every business in Wales worked more closely with local schools and young adults, then together we could identify the skills gaps and quickly start to put in place the framework and infrastructure needed to develop the workforce and the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.