The Journal launches Let’s Work Together campaign to tackle North East skills gap

The Journal is today launching a new campaign to encourage North East companies to work together on addressing the region’s skills gap.

Let’s Work Together will get to the heart of the challenges caused by skills shortages in the North East and showcase the creative ways in which many firms are tackling the issue.

Since 1999 the North East has seen a fall in the proportion of its working age population with no qualifications and an increase in the proportion of its working age population with qualifications at level 4.

But despite the improvements, the region is still lacking in some higher level skills required by employers, and by 2020 it is expected the demand for jobs requiring level 4 and above qualifications will rise by 120,000.

The skills shortage has been highlighted in a number of economic sectors – including construction, engineering, manufacturing and the creative industries – and makes up the backdrop to the North East LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan to create “more and better jobs”.

Many employers in the region have already taken matters into their own hands – with activities such as Ford Aerospace’s Academy training facility for the manufacturing industry; volunteer code learning club, CoderDojo NE and apprenticeship schemes at the regional offices of big four accountancy giants.

Liz Mayes, North East region director at manufacturing trade group EEF, is in the midst of a project to get her own members collaborating on skills gap busting activities.

She said: “The thing that really struck me coming into this job is that nearly every business is doing something. That could be anything from building an apprenticeship programme, working with schools and colleges or engaging with the Primary Engineering programme.

“There has to be an element of prioritising when it comes to the skills issue. Plugging the immediate gap is important. Getting young people to understand what engineering careers are about is key to that. The business case is strong for getting trained and experienced engineers into schools.”

The Journal’s campaign will tell some of the stories of those companies who are taking action to bolster the region’s skills base both for their own benefit and their wider sectors.

We want to hear from firms who are collaborating to face skills challenges and the successes they have seen.

EEF’s North East Skills Group is a body made up of the region’s prominent manufacturing names, including the likes of British Engines, Sevcon and Quick Hydraulics.

The group has a Skills Action Plan in the making, which is being informed by discussions between employers and consultation with universities, colleges and schools in the region.

Ms Mayes said: “I wanted to focus on particular experiences to support the engineering sector. I didn’t really want to have lots of discussions because the issues are probably very well understood. A lot of businesses have had to help each other anyway – for example a larger corporate working with an SME to attract funding.

“We pulled together two sessions in Teesside and Gateshead on the topic. We’ve also talked to universities, colleges and schools to inform an action plan. Part of the role of this plan is to shout about the activity that’s going on and raise the profile of what we are doing in the region.”

Last week one of the region’s top headteachers has issued a rallying call for businesses to help her deliver the skills the region’s young people need.

Hilary French, headteacher of Newcastle High School for Girls, said that local companies needed to join schools in turning out the workers of tomorrow.

Her school – formed by the merger of the old Church High and Central High schools – has launched a project to foster links with industry and has called on its parents and other supporters to join its campaign.

She said: “We know we are doing a great job educating girls. Newcastle High provides an excellent academic education so strong exam results are a given. In this day and age, however we need to deliver more.

“As well as getting a crop of A*s and As, our pupils must be work-savvy and it is with the help of business, industry and professional services that we can develop and hone the skills they will need to draw upon in their future careers.”

Mrs French’s call echoed words from the CBI’s interim regional director Sarah Glendinning

Writing in The Journal last week, she said: “CBI research finds that employers will need more and more recruits with high level skills. But they are not confident they can find the people they need as it is, and don’t expect things to improve in the future. Many don’t think that the education system is preparing school-leavers with the skills and attitudes that they need to be successful.

The CBI believes that one of the biggest problems is careers advice. More than three quarters of businesses think it is not good enough – and it never has been.

Teachers shouldn’t be blamed for this – they can’t be expected to be experts on all the job possibilities that lie beyond the school gates, or on how young people can best prepare themselves for life beyond school.

A good system needs great careers professionals, but crucially it also needs the input of employers.

Lots of businesses have recognised this and are forging links with schools. It’s no use complaining from the sidelines – the CBI is calling on businesses to communicate what they are looking for and why, and inspire ambition in young people to pursue different career pathways.”

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