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In conversation with Linda Conlon, Chief Executive of the International Centre for Life, about inspiring young people through careers education

The world of work today is very different to the one I first joined. It’s estimated young people can expect to change careers between five and seven times, and at least two of those will not be of their choosing. Looking back with what may be rose-tinted glasses, it seemed easier to move around and experience different jobs when I began my career.

I think if I was looking to offer some general advice to young people today it would be to keep your career options open. Don’t close them down before you have to and focus on one specific area.

It’s a positive thing to sample different work environments. I’ve worked for a multinational company, the government, a regional development agency, and for a number of years I ran my own marketing consultancy, which allowed me to work with a range of businesses and clients.

It’s not always about what you do, but the environment that you work in. If you’re happy and comfortable in your chosen environment you feel like you belong, and that gives you the best chance of a fulfilling and rewarding career.

It always strikes me as sad when some people are stuck in jobs they don’t like. You spend more time at work – in normal circumstances – with your work colleagues than you do at home. Why then would you do something you don’t enjoy?

When I was at school, I didn’t really benefit from any specific careers advice; there certainly wasn’t a sustained programme to recognise talent. Someone would come to the school for half a day and ask what you liked doing. I do remember someone saying they wanted to travel and they were advised to be a bus driver.

It was also quite common at the time to choose between arts-based or science-based subjects. Now, people don’t necessarily have to do the classic trio of subjects – maths, physics and chemistry. People can choose to study a mix of subjects that gives them a breadth of knowledge.

It’s really important to introduce people to the world of work from an early stage and that’s something we try to do in the centre’s visitor attraction, Life Science Centre. We offer an informal learning environment and we want to inspire people when they visit, ignite their curiosity and get them thinking in different ways. We encourage people to think creatively and imaginatively. Those skills are important in the world of work, particularly in science.

We have a mantra at Life Science Centre, which is ‘hands on, minds on, hearts on’. I firmly believe people learn better when they’re actively engaged in something that interests them.

It’s also important to say it’s okay to not know what you want to do in the future; people shouldn’t be worried or ashamed about that. Take your time and get it right.

We often talk about change in the workplace, and we’re currently seeing that at an unprecedented rate. That’s why I think young people should be flexible and not take themselves down a route they’re not sure of.

Parents have an important role to play in that, too. Young people often find they move unconsciously down a career path prompted by their parents.

Sadly, stereotypes still prevail in the science and technology sector, and some of that can come from parents, especially those without an interest in the area. That can discourage young people from pursuing STEM subjects, so we need to help students and their parents understand how science qualifications can stand them in good stead across many different careers.

In the gaming sector, for example, a large majority of people have qualifications in maths and physics. Unfortunately, young people don’t often make the connection between those exciting, emerging jobs and science subjects.

I’m often asked about my role within the science sector, and what skills and qualifications it takes to become a chief executive.

The first skill is to learn from your mistakes. We all make them, but it’s how you learn from the experience that’s important. I think it also benefits your staff to see someone in a senior leadership position make a mistake and own up to it. It gives them the courage to do the same.

Something that’s always been, and will continue to be important, is communication. It’s essential to be able to explain to people not just what, but why they’re doing something. When people don’t know what’s happening, they fill in the gaps themselves. Communications is something I feel I have a particular strength in, as I worked in the industry for a long time. I believe communications should be frequent, honest and simple.

Developing effective relationships is vital, too. I think a lot of people forget when you have a relationship with an organisation, it’s with the people within it.

Whilst it might sound obvious, listening skills are very important. If you think about our current situation, senior leaders need to understand how it’s impacting staff, their families and their lives. You only get that from listening.

You also need to take risks, and that’s something we’re very good at in Life. As a not-for-profit independent trust, we have a lot of autonomy and entrepreneurial spirit. We used that to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic to become an NHS large vaccination centre.

Taking risks fits with my next attribute, which is thinking outside the box. Despite being a not-for-profit, we think commercially at Life. By making a profit we can improve and expand the job we do – and do it better. That’s why it’s key to learn from other sectors and other businesses.

If I wasn’t chief executive of Life, I’d like to be either a wildly successful criminal barrister, or a wildly successful crime fiction writer. I’m always told only a small handful of people become successful criminal barristers. I’d definitely want to be one of the rich ones.

Linda Conlon is Chief Executive of the International Centre for Life, which opened in May 2000, with the purpose of inspiring everyone in North East England to explore and enjoy science and to discover its relevance to their own lives.

Linda is the first woman from Europe to be elected as Chair of the Association of Science and Technology Centres (ASTC), a body which represents more than 600 centres from over 50 countries. Linda is also a former board member of Ecsite, the European network of science centres and museums, and former Chair of its UK equivalent.

In recognition of her outstanding service to science and science education in North East England, she was awarded an MBE in January 2016.

www.life.org.uk

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Investing in infrastructure key for North East’s economic recovery

By Darren Laybourn, Director and Regional Strategic Lead at Turner & Townsend, and North East LEP Business Growth Board member.

Manchester’s skyline is often used to illustrate how well the economy is performing in the North West. The sight of tower cranes and new buildings appearing across the city suggests a high level of confidence from inward investors, and a vibrant, growing business community.

The construction industry can be a good indicator of a region’s economic health, which is why there has been so much focus on infrastructure and building back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

During the first national lockdown, the construction sector was one of the few areas of industry able to fully continue working. Government further bolstered the sector by investing millions of pounds in supporting infrastructure projects across the UK, including here in the North East, through the Getting Building Fund.

A booming construction sector gives confidence to the business community, particularly startups and SMEs. It encourages businesses to continue to invest in staff, which is vital in helping retain skills and talent in the region.

The UK’s exit from the EU has brought about new labour regulations that if not managed correctly, may result in a shortage of skills in some areas of the country. At a time when we’re looking to recover quickly from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important we don’t develop a regional cold spot in terms of skills and labour.

The construction industry in the UK accounts for 10% of total UK employment – approximately three million jobs.* It also supports a wider ecosystem including delivery partners, supply chains – even coffee shops that serve workers on their lunch breaks. And it doesn’t stop there. The construction industry is the catalyst for creating new jobs in the longer term too, be that through new office spaces, business parks, enterprise zones, etc.

Cities like Manchester, and Leeds have gained the confidence of investors and the business community. That’s reflected in the amount of investment in new infrastructure projects across both destinations. If we’re going to compete with that we must maintain a good base of capital projects in the region and build back from the coronavirus pandemic.

There are already some fantastic examples of regeneration in North East England. Newcastle Helix has helped grow the region’s health and life science sector by creating an environment where academia and business can collaborate and drive forward innovations in data science, urban science and life science.

In Newcastle upon Tyne, work is beginning at pace on the transformation of East Pilgrim Street. The £100m project will introduce new offices, bars, restaurants, car parks, and housing in the city centre. The first phase of the project will see the creation of a new landmark, 14-storey, Grade A office building.

Across the river in Gateshead, the £290m NewcastleGateshead Quays regeneration scheme is expected to create around 2,000 new jobs in the North East and provide a £60m annual boost to the local economy.

Projects of this scale and ambition have increased confidence in the North East, resulting in more inward investment and more job creation, which maintains and, in some cases, grows those important skills.

The focus of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership on investment and infrastructure is at the heart of the region’s Strategic Economic Plan. Moving forward, we need to continue the successful delivery of funding programmes in the North East – including the Local Growth Fund. We also need to develop a regional project pipeline and support SMEs in the North East to bid for local work.

Earlier this year the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group – which comprises the North East LEP, CBI, North of Tyne and North East Combined Authorities, the region’s universities, with the support of industry – submitted its North East Recovery and Renewal Deal to government, asking for a £2.8bn investment to support the North East’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

Building infrastructure to lead transformation and encourage future investment is a key theme in the deal. It is this that will help the region bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic and support future growth and investment in the North East.

Darren Laybourn is Director and Regional Strategic Lead at Turner & Townsend, and a Business Growth Board member at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership

*(source: https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/UK_construction_industry)

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Celebrating careers education in the North East during National Careers Week

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, welcomes the start of National Careers Week 2021.

Today marks the beginning of National Careers Week, a celebration of the importance of good careers guidance, and the resources available to help students make more informed decisions about their futures.

Running from 01-06 March, it’s an opportunity to highlight the role careers guidance has in helping young people prepare for the world of work, as well as shining a light on the many and varied routes to employment.

National Careers Week is also about supporting teachers and educators to access the wealth of free resources available to help them deliver quality careers education in schools and colleges – something the North East LEP has been leading in our region through North East Ambition.

Finally, it provides businesses the chance to engage with students and the education sector about the employment opportunities available for young people within their organisations.

Throughout this week we’ll be highlighting the different ways the North East LEP is working in partnership with education and business to improve young people’s understanding of the world of work.

Each day we’ll focus on a different audience: primary, secondary, higher education, further education, and businesses. We’ll highlight some of the progammes and initiatives led by the North East LEP, and those by our partners in education and industry, that are helping young people make more informed choices about their future.

We’ll highlight the success of the LEP’s Career Benchmarks Primary Pilot, which is raising the aspirations and broadening the horizons of North East primary school pupils. We’ll also share details of North East Opportunities, a new website delivered in partnership with NP11 that provides information for students at school leaving age about traineeships, apprenticeships, T-Levels, further/higher education, and other academic and vocational routes to employment.

Underpinning National Careers Week is its alignment with the Gatsby Benchmarks. The North East LEP was instrumental in delivering the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot in partnership with the Gatsby Foundation, and it’s fantastic to see the benchmarks are now central to the success of careers education in England.

Schools, colleges, universities and businesses are all invited to take part in National Careers Week. Join the conversation on social media using #NCW2021 and don’t forget to visit www.nationalcareersweek.com where you can download toolkits to help promote your involvement.

The North East LEP is proud to support National Careers Week and champion the amazing work done by our educators and business community to improve skills and opportunities for young people.

By helping our students better understand the employment opportunities available in the region – and the pathways to reach them – we will help create more and better jobs for the North East and grow our economy.

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North East Local Enterprise Partnership reaction to ONS regional labour market statistics.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (North East LEP) Strategy and Policy Director, Richard Baker, has commented on today’s regional labour market statistics, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

“This release provides official data to the end of 2020 and enables us to see the full picture about the impact COVID-19 had on the region’s labour market in 2020.

“Looking at the figures for the last quarter of 2020, the number of unemployed people seeking work in the North East region, including the North East LEP and the Tees Valley LEP areas, was 18 per cent higher than in the first quarter of the year. The North East employment rate is the lowest in England at 71.2 per cent and 29,000 people were made redundant in the region during 2020, the highest total since 2012.

“In the later months of 2020, the labour market was less volatile than earlier in the year, but the statistics do not yet include the full impact of the restrictions since Christmas.

“In the North East LEP area, the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits has increased by over 30,000 since March 2020.

“It is important to look at the detail to understand where the biggest impact has been felt and to identify key future policy challenges. Overall, the impact has been highest in younger age groups and one in ten people are claiming unemployment-related benefits in some areas.

“Another striking feature is the different impact on men and women. Compared with the first quarter of the year, the number of unemployed women in the region has increased by 10,000 or 47 per cent, while male unemployment has grown by 2,000 (just over 4 per cent).

“Yesterday’s announcement from government gives a clear pathway out of lockdown and will offer hope for many people after a very difficult year. However, it remains an uncertain time for businesses as we move to cautiously lift the COVID-19 controls and continue to adapt to new processes following the Trade Deal with the European Union.

“Support for those businesses remaining under restrictions due to the pandemic needs to continue and strategic leadership and a strong partnership with government will be critical as we look to drive forward our regional economy and address some of the key challenges which COVID-19 has created in our region.”

Ends.

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Why businesses need to upskill and reskill to emerge stronger

Throughout the past year, businesses and their employees have had to continuously adjust and adapt. Some organisations have needed to pivot or drastically re-think business plans and many companies, large and small, now need to ‘do more with less’. Whether that’s as a result of a reduced workforce, a strain on finances or a more challenging operating environment, there are few who can say it’s ‘business as usual’.

Joe Hedley, Assistant Director of Sales and Business Development at Northumbria University, explains the growing need to upskill and reskill employees to ensure that businesses remain efficient, effective and competitive in a post-COVID world.

How has Covid-19 affected businesses’ skills, capacity and ability to deliver?

Since the start of the pandemic, our ability to make choices has diminished. Many businesses have been unable to recruit at a time when they arguably most need new skills to survive and adapt.

Undoubtedly, employees with a diverse skillset are more valuable right now. In many cases, those in senior positions are being called upon to do more as a result of changing demands, increased business pressures or lower-level roles having been furloughed. However, these additional responsibilities don’t always come with the necessary training and support.

Conversely, some businesses are overwhelmed with new and growing opportunities as a result of the pandemic but are similarly struggling to support employees as they try to adapt and cope.

No matter what the challenges or opportunities, COVID-19 forced most companies to change the way they work almost overnight. Consequently, employees now need new or different skills in order to deliver effectively in the long term.

What’s the difference between reskilling and upskilling?

To reskill is to retrain someone in a completely new skillset in order to deliver a different role, whereas upskilling involves learning additional skills to improve an existing skillset.

Why is it so important to upskill and reskill staff right now?

History tells us that in times of crises, successful businesses use recovery as an opportunity to learn and innovate; to re-evaluate what customers want and how to provide it; and to make critical changes to how they are organised and work. These companies reportedly outgrow their peers nearly fourfold. Driving forward in this way means businesses become purpose-built for the new future.

As a result of the digital revolution, and long before the pandemic, it was estimated that 7 out of 10 workers across all sectors needed to upskill their digital capabilities. With the arrival and subsequent challenges of COVID-19, the influence of digital technologies has been dramatically accelerated – compounding the need for new and improved digital skills in every area of the economy.

The full social and economic impacts of COVID (after all, it is not over yet!) are still very much unknown. New problems and new opportunities are yet to be presented and therefore the need for us to adapt, improve and change our skillsets – and retrain where necessary – will become part of the ‘new normal’ for businesses and individuals alike.

How can Universities help?

Drawing on research-rich education, universities like Northumbria can provide a tailored approach to equipping organisations large and small, across all sectors, with the right skills. From degree apprenticeships and continuous professional development, to new product development partnerships and bespoke collaborations, the University can help businesses understand and solve their evolving skills needs (and gaps) so that they’re able to successfully deliver new business models in a post-COVID world.

Read Northumbria University’s Partner of Choice supplement, with the University’s latest business news and information on how research can drive business growth, here.

Find out more about why improving skills in the North East workfore is fundamental to our economic future.

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£3 million funding awarded to Northumberland robotics test site

Funding has been awarded to support the creation of a new test site for emerging robotics technology in Northumberland, which is set to be the first centre of its type in the UK.

The Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Test Site, which is being developed by the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult in Blyth, has been awarded £3 million from the government’s Getting Building Fund, which is managed in the region by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Gillian Hall, Chair of the North East LEP Innovation Board, said: “This new test site will put the North East at the centre of robotics innovation for the offshore industry, helping to develop new technologies which have the potential to be used worldwide.

“The Getting Building Fund is there to create new jobs and help the economy recover from the impact of the pandemic, and this project will brings jobs and investment to the region, helping to build a stronger, more sustainable North East.”

Matthew Hadden, Deputy Head of Delivery at ORE Catapult, said: “As the offshore renewable sector continues to grow, some of the largest costs are carrying out inspections, maintenance and installation activities offshore. It’s expensive and potentially dangerous.

“There’s a role for robotics to play in improving these processes and a real drive within the industry to adopt this new technology over the next five to 10 years – our aim is to support and accelerate innovation in robotics here in the North East, and see it in action in UK waters.”

The RAS Test Site will accelerate the demonstration, testing and evaluation of new technologies and will also provide links with ORE Catapult’s team of experts in research, innovation and operational maintenance.

The centre will be equipped with both onshore and offshore demonstration facilities, helping SMEs, universities and other developers of new technologies to develop new products and bring them to market.

“We have an incredibly strong offshore and subsea energy sector in the North East, particularly in oil and gas, and the RAS Test Site will play a big role in our ability to support the transition to renewables. This funding from the Getting Building Fund is vital in bringing forward new technologies developed in the North East,” added Matthew.

The North East LEP region was awarded £47m through the Getting Building Fund with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership increasing the fund to £55m by releasing an additional £8m from the North East Investment Fund.

The 17 projects put forward for the North East LEP area are expected to create more than 4,000 construction and permanent jobs; unlock more than 19,000 sqm of commercial space; assist more than 3,000 learners; improve or construct 4.2km of roads, cycle lanes and walkways; and further strengthen the North East’s green energy sector.

The government’s £900m Getting Building Fund was announced in August 2020 to provide investment in shovel-ready infrastructure projects across the country.

For more information about the Getting Building Fund, visit www.gov.uk.

Image: BladeBUG is one such repair and maintenance robot making leaps in offshore robotics capabilities. Image courtesy of BladeBUG.

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The Energy Innovation Challenge – TRL9

“Overall we’ve had a great experience with the programme and we’re really excited to get to our second level prototype with the solar fluidics project.”

Research and development specialist TRL9 was one of the North East businesses that took part in the Energy Innovation Challenge, making new connections within the energy sector. Here’s their story.

The Energy Innovation Challenge (round 3) is open for entries until Friday 26 February and SMEs are invited to put forward applications based on the use of materials in any aspect of electricity, gas and water infrastructure, such as pipes, valves or cables.

Find out more here.

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A show of resilience: apprenticeships shift to an online world

This National Apprenticeship Week, North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Skills Director, Michelle Rainbow, celebrates the resilience of the people who have continued to deliver apprenticeships throughout 2020.  

As it’s National Apprenticeship Week, I wanted to take a moment to really thank all the apprentices, business and training providers who have worked so hard to overcome the challenges brought by the past year.

Of course, the pandemic meant that everyone has faced significant changes to the way we work and learn. While it’s been unavoidable that some businesses have had to pause their recruitment of apprentices, or place existing apprentices on furlough, I’ve been incredibly impressed with the efforts people have taken to adapt to an online world.

Training providers shifted to virtual delivery with impressive speed, meaning apprentices could continue to learn. And businesses have changed the way they operate to enable apprentices to continue with on-site learning where possible – take a look at some examples from maritime crane manufacturer Liebherr-Sunderland, and Newcastle’s NEL Fund Managers.

Of course, many businesses have needed extra support during 2020 and we’ve seen an uplift in businesses applying for funding and support which is available from government to help employers deliver apprenticeships. It’s part of our job as the North East LEP to make sure that businesses know about the support available to them and I was really happy to see nearly 200 people at our online North East Ambition event this week, which included a presentation from the Skills Funding Agency on the range of support available for businesses which want to take on an apprentice.

We also work closely with schools and colleges to help make sure that young people are aware of the full range of routes they can take when they leave school – including A levels, T levels, university and apprenticeships.

Of course, not all apprentices are school-leavers, and the relatively new degree-level apprenticeship has proven to be a popular way for existing staff to upskill or reskill. We’re seeing a good take-up of these apprenticeships here in the North East, with people choosing to combine degree-level learning with workplace experience, and I hope this will continue to grow as we move through 2021.

As businesses across our region plan their recovery from the impact of COVID-19, I’d love to see more businesses thinking about what their future skills needs are, and whether these might have changed in the last year. Apprentices bring so much to a business including a fresh perspective and the latest skills, so if you know that your business needs to build on its digital capabilities, for example, apprenticeships could be one way of bringing these skills in, or upskilling your existing team.

It’s a testament to the dedication and resilience of our region’s apprentices, businesses and learning providers that we’re still seeing apprentices complete their training during the pandemic. As we begin a new year, I hope we can build on this achievement and offer more young people the opportunity to learn at the same time as gaining hands-on experience in the workplace. And ultimately, by building our apprenticeship offer, we will build a skilled workforce for the future, and help to bring more and better jobs to our region.

For more information on apprenticeships, visit the North East Growth Hub’s Apprenticeship Toolkit.

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Investing in a sustainable future through apprenticeships

The Liebherr Group is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of construction machinery, employing nearly 50,000 colleagues globally. The Group’s Sunderland site is part of its maritime division, manufacturing maritime cranes for use in port environments on ships and offshore rigs. Liebherr-Sunderland Managing Director, Ralph Saelzer, explains how the business continued with its successful apprenticeship programme throughout 2020.

How many apprentices does the Liebherr Group have in Sunderland?

In Sunderland we employ 180 people, and 23 of those are apprentices. Apprentices at the Liebherr Group take on a whole spectrum of roles and at our Sunderland site the majority are in shop floor roles like welding and fabrication. We also have apprentice roles in quality engineering and dispatch, and there are opportunities for staff to take on degree-level apprenticeships – three of our team have already completed a degree apprenticeship in leadership and management with Sunderland University.

What challenges did you and your apprentices face during COVID-19 and how did you overcome them?

When the pandemic hit, the question was whether we could continue to provide training on site for our apprentices. And could our apprentices still work alongside experienced staff in a meaningful way? It became clear that we could introduce the necessary social distancing and other precautions and still be able to carry on.

Another question was whether our training providers, like SETA, who we work with very closely, were still operating. We verified that they were, and that some of the training would now take place over Zoom. So we haven’t faced too much real disruption, we have just had to change the format of what we do, and people have had no problems with adhering to the guidelines.

What value do your apprentices bring to the business?

The value is immeasurable. Our apprenticeship scheme means that we can counteract any problems that might arise due to an ageing workforce, or difficulty in recruiting skilled tradespeople. This way we train our own staff and we bring skilled young people into the business. Apprenticeships aren’t a cost, they are an investment into a sustainable future.

What advice for other businesses hoping to work with apprentices potentially during lockdown?

It would be a big, big mistake to stop offering apprenticeships. It’s crucial that companies are still prepared to invest in apprenticeships despite the current situation – what you don’t invest in now, you will miss tomorrow.

Find information and guidance for businesses on hiring an apprentice on the North East Growth Hub.