South of Scotland Scottish National Party list MSP Paul Wheelhouse made that plea as he officially opened a centre for business development at the town’s Borders College campus, in Buccleuch Road.
The complex brings all the college’s business development staff from across the Borders under one roof for the first time.
No students will be based on site, but centre staff will provide practical help to businesses to develop the skills of their workforce through a range of courses and certified qualifications.
Mr Wheelhouse, minister for business, innovation and enterprise, said: “The establishment of the centre here is a really important opportunity that the business community in Hawick and in the Borders needs to grab. As they say, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’.
“This a fabulous facility, and this is happening at a time when we are seeing investment being made by the Government and Scottish Borders Council in Hawick.
“There are a number of things going in the right direction in the town, and it is important that businesses equip people with the skills to capitalise on these opportunities.”
College principal Liz McIntyre said: “Although this particular centre is a new initiative for the college, we have a long and very strong track record of supporting businesses across the Borders and beyond.
“We have many years of providing both nationally recognised vocational and bespoke training to many of our local businesses and employers, and although we recognise that our engagement with the local business community is good, we also recognise the need to build significantly on that engagement, and that is the key reason for the opening of this new centre.
“It is to provide a heart, a hub, here in Hawick, for businesses to come and engage.
“A skilled and well-qualified workforce is a vital part of any thriving economy and we at Borders College stand ready to support any business or employer who wishes to enhance the skills profile of their organisation. We are extremely fortunate to have these fabulous facilities here in Hawick, we have had this facility for seven years now but it has held up really well and we hope that through the centre businesses will engage with us.”
One Borders businessman eager to answer that plea is John Hawkins, director of people and culture at Selkirk-based Spark Energy, the niche gas and electricity supplier.
The company takes up to five apprentices each year with many Borders College students part of the intake.
Mr Hawkins said: “It is a great way of bringing really enthusiastic young people into our organisation. We work with the college on modern apprenticeship schemes and these young people we bring in are incredibly important members of our team, not just for now but for the future.
“They are very actively involved, they do real jobs and they are learning real skills in the workplace and that is augmented in the training they get from the modern one-year apprenticeship scheme.”