Michelle Rainbow’s role at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is a complex one but at its heart is a very simple goal: to ensure skills are available to all and everyone. To make this happen, the North East LEP has adopted a cradle to grave approach working with schools right through to the over 50s.
When skills director Michelle Rainbow joined the North East LEP, she was already passionate about raising aspirations and improving social mobility.
She knew the role would place her in the driving seat and enable her to work with key partners to make strategic, long-term changes that would positively affect the labour force for years to come. Michelle was well aware that as a region, the North East had historically had a poor skills pipeline into the local labour market, coupled with high levels of worklessness and a consistent brain drain of graduate talent.
With skills identified by the North East LEP as a priority area and a variety of interventions already in place, the numbers of those Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEETs) had started to drop. However inactivity amongst the over 50s was still rising.
“Prioritising employability across two programme strands – Skills and Inclusivity - within the Strategic Economic Plan, has been a big step forward to major change,” said Michelle. “Within the team we knew we needed to do more than just tackle our goal of creating more and better jobs, which is a challenge in itself. The data was clearly telling us that parts of the North East’s population were consistently out of work and disenfranchised.
“It made the North East LEP’s role pretty clear: we needed to target this harder to reach audience and through our partners, provide access to information, skills and employment opportunities.
“Using ‘All and Every’ as our mantra, that is now what we are striving to do. We want to raise ambitions from the very earliest age and help people maintain that enthusiasm for work and continue to reskill, until their retirement.”
Lifelong learning is a critical step
Underpinning all the North East LEP’s work in this area is a focus on lifelong learning. Within the team is a recognition that changing industries have seen certain skills fall into obsolescence and this can’t be allowed to happen again.
Michelle said: “We have to show people and employers how many options there are now to suit personal preferences and capabilities. No longer does one size have to fit all and that applies whatever your age and background.”
Culture change required
A great example of this is the North East LEP’s Fuller Working Lives programme, which aims to reduce inactivity levels in the over 50s by helping older workers develop their skills and make in-work transitions as the labour market changes.
It requires culture change in organisations which may not have positively discriminated towards older workers in the past but who can benefit from the expanding ageing workforce. By 2020, over 50s will make up almost a third of the working age population.
“Fuller Working Lives is a fantastic initiative already making a huge difference to North East businesses. It follows the Government’s retain, retrain and regain focus which sets down an expectation that organisations look at how they can accommodate older workers, provide the training they need and bring those out of work back into employment,” explained Michelle. “It’s an approach we really want to embed here in the North East.”
Growing North East Ambition
It’s not just at the later end of the career spectrum that the North East LEP is making a difference. The North East LEP’s groundbreaking work has influenced the Government’s new Careers Strategy centred around the eight Gatsby Good Career Guidance Benchmarks piloted in the region.
“To achieve the Benchmarks, which are a framework for career guidance, every school has to ensure 97% of pupils secure a work placement or meaningful interaction within the business community,” said Michelle. “This means they have to work hard to get less engaged pupils involved – no mean feat. The North East has done incredibly well in this respect and we’re proud to have contributed to national policy in this critical area.”
For more information, please visit www.nelep.co.uk/improving-skills.