Wanted: a magnificent six to lead

Wanted: a magnificent six to lead

Business people are being sought to give their help and advice on how to close the North East skills gap, as Peter Jackson reports.

A search is underway for the cream of North East business talent to help raise worker skills levels, creating more and better jobs as part of a programme of economic growth worth around £500m.

Up to six people are being sought by the North East LEP to represent local employers at the heart of a new employment and skills board.

Those chosen will advise the full North East LEP Board where to best target funding to nurture a new generation of skilled workers to fill more specialist posts at a time when employers are demanding more qualified employees to fill jobs in fast growth sectors such as digital and tech industries, marine offshore and advanced manufacturing.

Andrew Hodgson, North East LEP vice chairman and skills lead, said: “Employers are still crying out for skills and it happens right across the piece. The problem is that, as we grow those industries we are trying to hit a moving target.’’

The new North East Employment and Skills Board is due to go live in March to drive new thinking around employability and skills. The new board will bring together up to six business, voluntary and community sector representatives working alongside LEP board members and other key partners in the employability and skills arena.

Employability and skills are two of the six priorities outlined in the North East Strategic Economic Plan ‘More and Better Jobs’. The skills and employability programmes provide the framework for an investment of about £500m over the next six years into the local economy, through the North East LEP from Government and European Union funding.

A substantial part of this cash will be aimed at driving up skills achievements across all levels, from those who have been traditionally hard to reach, through to ensuring graduates are equipped with appropriate skills for working in growing companies.

North East LEP board member and Sunderland College principal Anne Isherwood said: “We are seeking up to six ambitious representatives from the North East business, voluntary and community sectors who will offer energy, commitment, vision and business insight in their respective sectors.

“They must have strong experience in developing business operations and ambitions for growth in their businesses through understanding skills requirements and needs within industry sectors.”

The non-executive posts will demand about nine days’ time per year with appointments made for up to three years. The posts are unpaid. Initially the employment and skills board will meet bi-monthly.

Hodgson said: “Specifically, we are aiming to ensure that North East businesses have access to appropriately skilled people who will participate and thrive in a competitive economy.

“We wish to appoint up to six leaders to represent employers - both private and voluntary sector - in the North East LEP area, who are able to champion and articulate the skills needs of businesses in the context of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

“It’s important that we get a spread of people from a very diverse business community.’’ He explained that he already received representations on policy from bodies such as the NECC, FSB and CBI. He added: “We want to recruit people who know what it’s like on the ground. I need a good spread through from small business to large business, I need a spread of private enterprise and social enterprise.

I also need people who have good networks and can represent the voice of more than
just themselves, who are familiar with what works and doesn’t work in the skills environment.’’

Hodgson said that a “broad spectrum’’ of business people had already shown interest
in the positions. “We have a lot of passionate people wanting to deal with these issues in the North East and this is a further way to spread that capability.’’

He pointed out that the LEP has a number of areas around skills in which it is seeking to deliver programmes, including £113m of ESF funding. “We have the skills pilot with the colleges which is about quality of output and making sure the right measures are in place with the colleges, we have the Education Challenge coming up and making sure we have the right business engagement with schools,’’ said Hodgson.

“So we have a massive amount of work to do and having a non-executive board overseeing that and making sure the programmes work is absolutely fundamental.’’

He pointed to a number of advances in the region in tackling the skills gap. “We said we would double the number of apprentices and we are close to that figure already. We have seen a lot more businesses offering apprenticeships right across the board. I think we are seeing a much stronger recognition within schools and among young people of the opportunities in working in some of the sectors which we see as growth sectors.

“The skills gap is going to be a long term problem to solve if we are going to do it right. The LEP has a 30-year plan, not a three-year plan. We need to solve it if we are going to have long term sustainable economic growth in the region but I’m seeing some green shoots and a lot of stuff happening.’’