North East LEP chair Andrew Hodgson
A region’s wealth depends on productivity, which is driven by its skills base. North East LEP chair Andrew Hodgson explains the work being done to enhance training.
A highly skilled workforce attuned to the needs of specialist employers will provide the foundations for business growth, entrepreneurial activity and strengthen opportunities for our young people. Access to this readily available skilled workforce is a critical component in the strategic planning of businesses, such as inward investors looking to set up home in the North East or reinvest in existing companies here. For example, the decision by Hitachi Rail Europe to base its £80m train manufacturing facility at Newton Aycliffe was in part influenced by the availability of a highly skilled workforce on its doorstep.
The company is cementing its North East presence by investing in apprenticeships giving young people a fantastic start to their engineering careers and establishing its own in-house resource of skilled workers on which to base its future growth. North East England is building the coherent skills offer that addresses the demands of employers looking for increasingly specialised employees to operate in a globally competitive marketplace.
The North East LEP is committed to working with employers, schools, further and higher education institutions and businesses to provide the mix of world class academic, technical and professional education, apprenticeships and higher level apprenticeships in all of the growing areas of our economy. This will ensure that those entering the labour market have the right skills to thrive, that skills supply underpins business growth and that talent is retained in our region.
We want every young person to be able to identify routes into work, supported through experience and exposure to the world of work and to be inspired to achieve. We are also committed to reducing inactivity levels in our 50-plus workforce, through skills investment helping older workers to remain in work.
The changing structure of the economy requires future-proofing, giving young people and people in employment access to the training needed to learn new and transferable skills to adapt to industry demand. It’s a bold and ambitious agenda, but one that we feel is achievable by 2024 given the solid foundations we already have in the North East. We have four world class universities producing fantastic graduates, and contrary to popular myth our graduate retention in the North East is good when set against comparable regions. Our universities understand the need to work with local employers to meet their demands and our colleges are all highly attuned to the skills needs of employers.
We have got the best college estate of any region – they are all Ofsted rated good or outstanding, which is phenomenal. At the other end of the education spectrum, the North East LEP is leading work to engage with schoolchildren to inspire aspiration and achievement. We have a very strong programme focused on school careers opportunities through the Gatsby Foundation National Career Benchmarks Pilot. The four-year scheme running in the North East LEP area tests eight benchmarks of good career guidance.
They identify any barriers to helping young people make more informed decisions about their future study and employment and ensure that young people are better equipped with the skills employers need.
Sixteen schools and colleges in the North East LEP area are taking part in the national pilot and the findings will be rolled out across the country at the end of the project.
The Gatsby programme complements our Enterprise Advisor initiative embedding business leaders into secondary schools on a voluntary basis to help teachers shape the delivery of careers education.
There’s been a lot of good skills work done in the past and some great activities, but never a structured programme like this based on achieving the career guidance benchmarks by bringing together entrepreneurs and school headteachers.
Companies such as Unipres, Accenture, Ford Aerospace and Barclays are helping drive the programme forward, delivering invaluable knowledge to schools.
The full benefits from this project will be felt in the North East economy in ten years time when these young people are actively out there and working in high value jobs.