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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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Delivering apprenticeships during the coronavirus pandemic

Abigail Cook joined NEL Fund Managers in 2017 as a Level 2 Administration Apprentice. On completion of her Level 2, Abigail immediately progressed to Level 4, which she successfully completed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Yvonne Gale, Chief Executive Officer of NEL Fund Managers, and Abigail Cook, Investment Associate at NEL Fund Managers, discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on apprenticeships, and how organisations have adapted to ensure apprentices and employers continue to benefit from this important route to employment.

Yvonne Gale, Chief Executive Officer

What immediate impact did the coronavirus pandemic have on the delivery of Abigail’s apprenticeship?

At the time when the coronavirus pandemic began, Abigail was right at the end of her Level 4 apprenticeship. At that stage there’s a final completion assessment that includes observation in the workplace.

Obviously that couldn’t happen, so the main disruption was the timescale for moving Abigail onto her Level 7 apprenticeship. We couldn’t get the paperwork signed off on Level 4, so we couldn’t get her enrolled for Level 7.

We were also in the process of moving to a new specialist training provider who could deliver Level 7. The new provider was unable to enroll Abigail onto the new apprenticeship programme until they had official sign off the Level 4 NVQ, and that was on a backlog of around six-eight weeks.

It was just unlucky timing as that was in March/April 2020.

Did NEL Fund Managers benefit from continuing the apprenticeship during the coronavirus pandemic?

Abigail is currently in a developmental role and we know it’s really important that she keeps getting opportunities to learn so putting her apprenticeship on hold could have affected its momentum and her motivation. We were keen COVID-19 didn’t disrupt that and that we could keep it moving forward.

I actually spent a lot of time working with the new training provider, Kaplan, to make sure it could continue. During the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic everything was temporarily disrupted and for people in a developmental role it’s important they don’t feel like they’re going to be left on the sidelines. Apprenticeships could have been something that was easily left on the shelf but we didn’t want to do that; we felt it was really important to keep pushing to make sure it continued.

Why has NEL Fund Managers chosen to invest in apprenticeships?

There are multiple reasons. NEL Fund Managers does a lot of technical work and we need technical skills. Whilst the Level 4 apprenticeship has given Abigail a good grounding we spotted an opportunity for her to move from an administration role to a technical role.

Although we do a lot of learning in the workplace, I think it’s really important people have external learning as well. People in a developmental role will bring improvements to processes as they go, so if they’re only learning in the workplace, where are they going to get that knowledge? We really want people to experience that cross-pollination from training in the workplace in addition to the external perspectives offered through an apprenticeship.

Another reason is that NEL Fund Managers focuses a lot of emphasis on staff retention; over 50% of our staff has been with us for ten years or more. You can’t just assume people will stay, you have to offer them progression and the best way to do that is through training. We’ve got a very long history of that at NEL Fund Managers; everyone in the business has done a lot of training. We’re keen to support people who want to continue to learn and develop because we want to keep those members of staff and we want to keep their skills too.

The other benefit is that apprenticeships offer a structured programme and for small businesses, it’s quite difficult to deliver a three-year structured training programme. Going onto a planned apprenticeship means someone takes on the care of that structured programme for us, and makes sure it happens.

Abigail’s apprenticeship is in accounting and we have several accountants here in the business and that have all learnt through the apprenticeship route. We know it works and there’s tradition there. Because we benefitted from it, we want the next generation to benefit from it too.

Abigail Cook, Investment Associate

What changes did you have to adapt to in order to complete your Level 4 during lockdown?

Towards the end of my Level 4 there was a series of final observations that had to be done. My assessor, Olivia, couldn’t come and visit in person so we had to think of new ways to get the observations done, and that was mainly through Zoom and Microsoft Teams. We had professional discussions that were then recorded and uploaded to the portal that stores evidence of all my work.

I redid one module for my technical certificate and found I actually had more time to do research as I had fewer personal commitments because of lockdown.

Did you find it challenging to move to a home learning / working model?

It wasn’t necessarily challenging, just very different. I’m mainly office based unless I’m attending meetings, and my bedroom has turned into a home office, which is working well now. There were some challenges at the beginning with parents and younger siblings all working/studying from home, and we invested in some new WIFI.

A lot of the work we do at NEL Fund Managers, such as getting wet signatures on documents and having investment files signed off, had to be adapted to be digitised, and that took a lot of work initially. But since then it’s a case of pressing a button and sending it off via email to someone. It was challenging at first but we’ve all adapted to the new processes we’ve developed.

Doing some of the technical learning at home has been hard as normally you might want to sit with someone to go through it. When we are doing revision sharing now it’s about sharing screens on Teams. As a learner I’d prefer to do some of that in person.

The Zoom sessions we’ve been doing have been really interactive but it’s not quite the same as being sat in a classroom being able to ask your peers questions.

Yvonne Gale – We actually picked Kaplan as they were the only training provider that could offer us classroom learning in Newcastle. It’s a three-year programme so I’m hopeful we can go back to a classroom model. Abigail, and our other accounting apprentice, Mike, actually requested classroom learning when we were looking at providers so it’s a shame we’re not able to offer people their preferred method of learning at the moment.

Why did you choose to complete an apprenticeship over another route to employment?

I originally went to sixth form after doing my GCSEs to study AS levels but after my first year I questioned why I was doing them. At the time I also had a part time job and was enjoying the work ethic, as oppose to full-time study.

I saw the Level 2 apprenticeship advertised at NEL Fund Managers and even though it was a very different environment, after my interview I thought ‘yes, I’d like to work here’. Thankfully Yvonne and Suzanne took me on, which was great.

An apprenticeship allows me work and earn whilst I’m studying. Being in secure employment – as opposed to a university experience with a part time job and a lot of debt – seemed really attractive to me.

It was also encouraging to learn other people in NEL Fund Managers have been apprentices as well. That showed me there is a lot of scope for development here and NEL Fund Managers – as an employer – are very encouraging.

Yvonne Gale – Abigail has gone from working part time in hospitality to doing a postgraduate qualification in four years – and she’s skipped all the student debt.

The apprenticeship system really works for us as an employer too. The course she’s currently doing – had we been paying that ourselves – would cost £20k. For a small business that’s a huge amount of money. Because of the apprenticeship system we’ve been able to get that for 5% of the cost – so it costs us £1k for a £20k piece of training.

And Abigail is getting £20k worth of training, and she’s not having to pay for it.

What are your career aspirations moving forward?

Ideally I’d like to move into more of an investment executive role, managing my own investment opportunities and working with yet more growing local businesses. I’m definitely getting the skills I need through my apprenticeship. The amount I’ve learned is really helping me develop in my current role.

I’d like to finish the current apprenticeship in the next three years and move into a permanent investment executive role. In the long term I’d like to continue at NEL Fund Managers and see what other progression opportunities there are.

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

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South Tyneside Council awarded £3m from government to support The Glassworks office development

South Tyneside Council has been awarded £3m from government’s Getting Building Fund to support the creation of a proposed state of the art, glass-fronted riverside office building in the town.

The Glassworks – subject to planning permission – will be built on former brownfield land in the Harton Quay area of South Shields and provide 50,000 sq ft of Grade A office accommodation. It will aim to be one of the first near-net carbon zero office buildings in the North East.

The Getting Building Fund – managed in the region by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership – is part of government’s package of financial support to kick-start the economy, create jobs and help areas facing the biggest economic challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East LEP, said: “The Glassworks will be an important new development by South Tyneside Council and an excellent example of the type of project the region needs to help support our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the increase in people working from home because of COVID-19, there is still demand for quality and affordable office accommodation in the region.

“The scheme will build on recent North East LEP investments in the town, including the new South Shields Transport Interchange and Nexus Learning Centre.

“The Getting Building Fund is designed to get major infrastructure projects moving quickly, so we can start to see our economy and employment rates return to pre-COVID levels.”

Spread over five storeys, The Glassworks will form part of the new living, working and cultural quarter in Harton Quay, and link to South Shields’ town centre.

Cllr Tracey Dixon, Leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “We’re delighted to have secured this funding through the Government’s Getting Building Fund.

“We hope that The Glassworks will start the transformation of a vacant site into a bustling quarter, attracting new businesses to the town and helping to generate jobs for local people.

“It would be another milestone in our ambitions for South Shields and complement the considerable investment that has already gone into this area.”

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 18 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.

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Universities support North East’s economic recovery: START UP at Newcastle University

Universities have a vital role to play in helping the North East economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The work being delivered by North East universities is supporting new and existing businesses to innovate and grow, and shaping and supporting a more sustainable and inclusive economy.

Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, University of Sunderland and Teesside University are all members of the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group, which was established by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to provide business resilience and ensure a collective response to the economic impact of COVID-19 on the North East economy.

Below is a case study about Newcastle University’s START UP offer, with a focus on the impact student and graduate businesses it supports are having within the region, and how they are responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Newcastle University is ranked Top 5 in the UK for graduate entrepreneurship based on start-up turnover and investment raised. Based on average investment per start-up, the University is ranked Top 10 in the UK for scalable graduate start-ups and has generated the most investable graduate start-ups in the North East.

START UP is an equity-free support system for Newcastle University students and graduates up to three years and includes START UP Founderships, a pre-accelerator programme to ready the individual and their businesses for market entry, investment and success.

There are currently 203 START UP-supported businesses trading with a combined annual turnover of close to £60 million. Between them, they’ve raised over £19 million in external investment, won national and global awards and created 695 full-time equivalent jobs.

*All rankings and statistics from HE-BCI Survey 2018-19.

Over 70% of these businesses have remained in the North East, many of which recruit within the region, such as One Utility Bill, Nebula Labs and My Healthcare Recruit. Many the businesses are securing impressive investment figures.

In September 2020, Equiwatt raised over £300,000 to roll-out its innovative, energy-efficient app and create four new jobs in Newcastle. A month prior, Tea Ventures Ltd (NovelTea) welcomed 1,000 investors onboard as part of a crowdfund campaign that raised £577,000 to advance its plans to break into the US market, and in December, gained a further £1.4M investment for expansion and job creation.

Many of the START UP founders are persevering or finding ways to pivot despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis. Some have received grant support through Newcastle University’s partnership with Santander Universities UK to help them survive and thrive in 2020, and others are applying to a newly launched fund of £40,000.

“Last year with Santander Universities, we launched a Covid-19 Fund to help our START UP community adapt in response to the global crisis, supporting some businesses to scale in order to meet new demand. This new Fund is about stimulating and supporting the next wave of entrepreneurs and changemakers who will have a critical role to play in our economic and social recovery” said Claire Adamson, START UP Manager, Newcastle University. “It is also about making visible and celebrating the individuals joining the growing community of Newcastle University students and graduates who have created their own graduate jobs as well as employment opportunities for others”, she added.

Santander Universities has been in partnership with Newcastle University since 2009 and has provided close to £1.7M to the University, with £189k appointed to enterprise activities.

Matt Hutnell, Director, Santander Universities, says: “Santander is committed to supporting higher education as well as local communities across the UK. We’re proud of our partnership with Newcastle University and we’re delighted to support their new Start Up Fund which will enable many more budding entrepreneurs to thrive, particularly during this challenging time.”

To find out more about START UP, visit www.ncl.ac.uk.

Click here to read more about how universities in the region are playing a central role in supporting the region to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Click here to read more about the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group.

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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).

“Today’s figures continue to demonstrate the impact of COVID-19 on our economy with a continuing decrease in employment and a rise in the number of people claiming unemployment related benefits.

“The decision to extend the furlough scheme will protect many jobs for the future. However, it remains an uncertain time for businesses as a result of Covid controls and the need to continue to adapt to new processes following the Trade Deal with the European Union.

“It is essential that government continues to support the economy through the pandemic and invests to support the proposals in our COVID-19 Recovery Plan to enable us to drive forward our region’s recovery.

“The data released today covers the three-month period to November 2020. Employment continued to decrease during this time, both nationally and in the North East. The employment rate for the North East region, including the North East LEP and the Tees Valley LEP areas, was the lowest in England at 71.2 per cent. Both the unemployment rate and the number of working age people outside the labour market were much higher than they were between March and May 2020. The number of people being made redundant was at its highest level since 2009.

“In the North East LEP area, the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits has increased by over 31,000 since March, with rates at 10 per cent in some areas. Employment in the region has fallen in most age groups, but the largest impact appears to have been on those aged under 25 and among 50 to 64-year-olds.

“These statistics include the November lockdown period but do not include the impact of the restrictions since Christmas.

“Strategic leadership and a strong partnership with government is more critical than ever – we will work closely with government to ensure that support for businesses is reflective of the need of our region.”

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In conversation with Liz Bromley, CEO of leading national college group NCG

How has NCG, and the broader education sector in the North East, had to adapt and change as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?

Since the start of the pandemic there have been many policy changes. These have fluctuated from ‘colleges are open’ and ‘colleges are closed’ to ‘colleges are partially closed but open to vulnerable students and children of key workers’. Following this last lockdown, the category of vulnerable young learners has expanded to include those that have limited access to IT or study space.

We’ve been really challenged by the constant changes in guidance and we’ve had to make sure that whatever the scenario, we can continue with the core business of educating our students without it being too difficult for them to engage with us.

The biggest shift has been digital transformation; we’re now able to teach 100 per cent remotely, in the same way we can work 100 per cent remotely. We’ve had to be really mindful that while most staff have access to good quality laptops, strong broadband connections and IT support, that’s not necessarily the case for all our students. So we’ve had to be fleet of foot and responsive to policy changes, but also really holistic in terms of thinking about what digital transformation means.

We’ve also had to adapt where it comes to exams. In 2020 GCSE and A Levels were cancelled. We were then told, categorically, that GSCE and A Levels would take place in summer 2021, and now we’ve been told that they won’t.

Throughout all of this we’ve been delivering vocational skills and BTECs – which are quite often the ones employers are most interested in – and they’ve almost been forgotten about. Ultimately, we’ve had to make some really big decisions to fill the gaps in guidance and policy.

Do you envisage some of the changes continuing when COVID-19 restrictions are eventually lifted?

Absolutely. Rye Hill House – which sits at the top of the campus of Newcastle College – is where my office is, along with the rest of the NCG senior and core central services teams. We’ve done some sums in terms of how much money we can save by not running that site as a head office anymore and actually opening it up to employers, to apprentices and to enterprise. Yes, people will still be able to go into the office, but it will be a hot desk environment.

NCG has seven colleges; two in London, one in the Midlands, two in the North West and two in North East. I would normally get round and visit each of those sites over the course of a fortnight. Well now I can visit them all in one day, and I can do all of that without spending anything on mileage, train fares, or hotel costs. The way we work now is much more cost effective, and much quicker.

The combined effect is that NCG is contributing to the green agenda by creating less vehicle emissions, using less electricity and gas to keep our buildings warm, and not travelling, unnecessarily, around the country. All of those things are making us think about cost efficiency, decarbonisation and contributing to the green industrial revolution.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted teaching and learning at NCG?

If a year ago someone had said to me, ‘do you think you should set up a strategic project to try and get NCG into blended learning and flexible working?’, it would probably have taken us around 24-36 months to roll it out.

In March 2020 the country went into lockdown and within ten days we were teaching remotely. We were also working remotely and becoming competent at this. That whole mindset around big strategic decisions taking years to implement has changed; through necessity we’ve proven this is not the case.

Our fantastic teachers, who may have never thought online tuition was a feasible option, are doing fabulous things with online platforms. Many of them are using YouTube, for example, to record videos of themselves cutting hair, applying beauty techniques, dancing, and even building brick walls. All our teachers have learned how to deliver what they do in a classroom at home, with a camera.

I think the pandemic has demonstrated that teaching and learning is there for all of us. Even when we’re working we can learn very quickly to educate ourselves and work in new ways.

Of course we’ve had to be really conscious of the quality. When everything is face-to-face it’s very easy to drop into a classroom and look at students’ faces and know if they’re engaged. Online it’s much harder, so we’ve had to be inventive in terms of our quality assurance. We’ve launched lots of student engagement surveys so we’re getting feedback in a variety of ways to make sure the teaching and learning is fit for purpose.

Until the coronavirus pandemic there were just two functional skills our students needed, maths and English. Well now there are three – English, maths and digital literacy. We’re now in a world where if you are not digitally literate you are as illiterate as someone that can’t spell or add up. The whole area of digital literacy in helping people become employable is another change to our teaching and learning.

The big question is what this means for the future curriculum and skills. What are jobs post-pandemic and post-Brexit going to look like? They’re certainly not going to look how they did twelve months ago. What happens to our travel, tourism and hospitality sector, for example? These are all things we are focusing on and need to address.

Has the coronavirus pandemic led to a change in the skills and/or qualifications businesses are looking for?

There are some great examples of this. In the construction industry, for example – where you might think digital literacy isn’t as important – we are now considering the shape of construction of the future and more sustainable methods of building. The green agenda very much impacts on the way we think about architecture and constructions materials of the future.

The same discussion is happening around motor vehicles and today’s focus has changed to electric. And where we have our Rail Academy, we need to be thinking about hydrogen trains of the future.

We’ve been having some very interesting conversations around travel and tourism. What if tourism trends focus on staycations? How do we recalibrate the curriculum to adapt to a post-COVID world where more people are conscious about the impacts of travel, and might want to focus more on the UK as a holiday destination.

In short, the pandemic has caused us to reframe our curriculum so that it absolutely meets regional and employers’ needs. We need businesses to help shape this so we can provide them with graduates who are employable and have the right technical skills for a future world.

How can colleges and the education sector support the economic recovery of the North East?

Education is an important gap filler when people are unemployed, but to make it more than that we need to make sure we’re reskilling and up-skilling people. We need to understand what employers see as the skills gaps and educate people to fill them.

We also need to think about skills for the workplace, which many of our young people are simply not learning because they’re working from home. For a huge number of new school leavers and new graduates, their first job is in their bedroom. They’re not learning skills like how to contribute in meetings, how to take notes, how to respond to body language and other non verbal cues from managers and senior staff members. They’re not learning about the politics of the office.

It’s not just about the technical skills for the workplace, it’s also about making sure that young people are really ready to engage in a professional context. Again, we need employers to help us with that.

How can businesses in the North East work more closely with NCG?

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve repurposed Rye Hill House so it now houses our Apprenticeship Hub, Enterprise Hub and our new Synergy Hub.

The Synergy Hub is where we really want employers from the Newcastle and Gateshead area to come in and interact with our staff, students, and curriculum developers so they’re helping us deliver the right curriculum to match the business need.

We are looking at being far more open and inviting employers to come in and really be at the heart of the curriculum offer. We want to work in partnership with businesses and big employers to create national apprenticeship schemes with lots of options for different qualifications at different levels.

Further education is being mooted as the key to economic recovery post Brexit and post-COVID. But we can’t be the key to economic recovery if we aren’t doing it in partnership with employers. For me, having employers at the heart of what we do, what we plan, and how we deliver our curriculum, is absolutely essential.

We’re really keen for employers to contact us and talk to us about their wants, their needs, their ideas, and we will do our level best to work in partnership to deliver them.

How is NGC supporting the call for a green recovery from COVID-19, inline with government’s green industrial revolution and the UK’s target to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050?

We’re doing it in two ways; one, as an employer of two and a half thousand staff across the country, and two, as an educator of forty five thousand students across the country.

We want to make sure that what we do as an employer and a workforce contributes to the net zero carbon emissions target. We want to travel less, we want to use less building space, and we want to be more innovative in the ways we engage with people.

We also want to teach the courses of the future that will enable our students to think greener and more sustainably. For example, opening up courses that focus on conservation, agriculture, woodland management, and considering how a green industrial revolution feeds into construction, automotive, rail, travel and tourism, and the food and catering parts of our offer.

How do we reframe our energy courses so they’re looking at more sustainable energy sources, like wind farming and subsea, and less at traditional methods?

So I think we do it both ways; by practicing what we teach by being a good workforce and a good employer, but also teaching what is needed to make sure this green revolution is supported by the FE sector.

Liz Bromley is CEO of leading national college group NCG.

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In conversation with Dr. Phil Budden, senior lecturer at MIT’s School of Management, about the MIT REAP program

The North East LEP and key partners are currently participating in the prestigious Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) led by MIT. Here Dr. Phil Budden, senior lecturer at MIT’s School of Management, tells us more and explains why it’s important for the region.

Please can you explain what the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) is and how it came about?

The professors who founded the MIT REAP program were interested in helping regions understand how to harness their innovation, create jobs locally, and make a real difference. This was in response to the recession of 2009/10 when lots of regional leaders around the world were thinking about how to build back their economies.

MIT REAP was launched as a two-year program in 2012 to answer these sorts of questions and we were pleased to welcome teams from Scotland and London in the early cohorts. When the MIT REAP program created significant amounts of international interest – from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Japan and China to West Africa and Latin America – I became involved in a faculty and diplomat’s role.

Almost ten years later, the MIT REAP program is going from strength to strength with teams from around the world and we believe we are going to face similar needs in the 2020s to those we saw in 2010. We already have regions and organisations asking how to rebuild and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship: this time we are focusing on inclusivity too.

As a Brit on the team, I’m delighted that we have now created a ‘lite’ version of the global MIT REAP to focus on the UK. This pilot runs for just a year and is focused solely on the role that LEPs in England can play to convene stakeholders and collaborate to create regional economies that can bounce back and flourish.

The program aims to help regions foster an evidence-based, practical approach to strengthening innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world. What do you mean by the word ‘ecosystem’ and why is cross-sector/multi-stakeholder collaboration so important in making economic conditions better?

One of the words that MIT uses is ‘ecosystems’ in order to convey the ways in which we see innovation happening in the world.

In an ecosystem, which is a very organic concept, there are a variety of actors leading to a multi-stakeholder model, with roles for the government, local enterprise partnerships, large corporations, universities and entrepreneurs. These aren’t always the roles they think they should play but we help them understand their ecosystem roles.

Critically, we ask the entrepreneurs – as this is where our main focus lies – what they need to be successful with their enterprises. To thrive, regions need a spectrum of entrepreneurs, from those who form micro to small SMEs, often the backbone of a regional economy, through to the high-growth, high-tech innovation-driven enterprises, such as those which might spin out from universities.

All of these voices need to be heard, and part of the magic of MIT REAP is this cross-stakeholder discussion. Ultimately, no single organisation is in charge of the ecosystem, and no one individual has all the answers.

The North East LEP is one of six sub-regions in England chosen for the MIT REAP ‘lite’ pilot. How does this differ to the usual two-year learning engagement with MIT?

As a Brit, I was very keen to bring the insights of the MIT REAP Global Program back to the motherland in a way that we could convey the key frameworks and focus on entrepreneurial action, but in a shorter timeframe. This is how the MIT REAP-UK ‘lite’ pilot, supported by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), was born.

The partners of choice are ten LEPS across England which form the six teams taking part, with the North East LEP a leading player of one of these teams. We are looking to see how much we can achieve in one year rather than two, given the challenges everyone has been facing in 2020, and the need to start re-building in 2021.

What’s the vision for the program once the pilot ends in England and what outcomes will the program achieve?

The key outcomes of the UK pilot will be the innovation and entrepreneurship impacts that will result from the action plans that the regional teams devise and implement. MIT is all about real world impact and so we judge our efforts on how useful the LEP teams have found the frameworks and our advice.

Early signs are teams like the North East LEP’s have found the multi-stakeholder evidence-based approach useful to find a strategy that plays to the region’s strengths and will deliver results in the near term, which is what we all hope for in 2021. We’ve been really impressed by their work and approach so far.

For more information visit https://reap.mit.edu/reap-uk/.

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New business survey launched to assess impact of EU exit and coronavirus pandemic in the North East

The beginning of 2021 has been a challenging start to the year for many businesses. England entered another national lockdown at the end of December, and the UK’s exit from the EU on 31 December brought new rules and regulations impacting all businesses that operate in the European Union.

Because of this we have launched a brand new survey on the North East Growth Hub to find out how our region’s businesses have been impacted by the UK’s new trading agreement with the EU, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. We want to find out what preparations, planning and changes organisations have been able to make during this very difficult time.

All the information shared with us will be fed back to government, ensuring North East businesses get the help and support they need.

One of the main things we want to understand is how the UK’s exit from the EU – and its new trading agreement with the bloc – has affected businesses in the North East. We know from previous surveys that many regional businesses had not prepared for the new rules, which came into force on 01 January this year. We’d like to know what the impact has been in areas such as customs procedures, paperwork relating to imports and exports, supply chain disruption, and data storage and transfer. We are also keen to know if this has opened up any new opportunities for businesses.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to be the main concern for most businesses in the North East. A large proportion of our region’s businesses have been forced to close because of the new national lockdown, and business owners have to – once again – look to new, innovative ways to engage with their customers.

Through this new survey we’d like to understand what measures businesses have taken to shield some of the impact of COVID-19; whether that’s been through stockpiling, furloughing staff, adopting new technologies, or introducing new products and services.

We’d also like to know if businesses plan to retain any of the changes they’ve made after we emerge from the pandemic, for example, remote working, or a greater focus on online retail.

Businesses can also let us know if they have benefitted from any of the government’s financial interventions, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Bounce Back Loans, and grant payments. Importantly, we’d like to know from businesses if they think some of these measures should continue.

The final part of the survey focuses on business resilience. We know many North East businesses have made huge changes to adapt to our current situation, and we’d like to know the type of measures businesses have introduced. It could be a greater investment in IT and digital, more focus on crisis planning, investing in staff training, or introducing e-commerce. Whatever changes businesses have made, we’d like to know what they are and how effective they’ve been.

All the information we gather through this new survey will help us deliver the right support, to the right businesses, at the right time. The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete and all the information supplied will be treated confidentially.

You can access the Understanding how EU Transition and COVID-19 is impacting your business survey via this link.

Thank you in advance for sharing your feedback. If you have any questions about the survey you can contact us by emailing [email protected].

And do please remember that North East businesses looking for free, impartial, one-to-one business support and advice can book an appointment with our Growth Hub Connectors via www.northeastgrowthhub.co.uk. The Growth Hub Connect team can guide you through the business support, and finance and funding available to help your business thrive in 2021.

By Emma Ward, Research and Evaluation Manager at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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In conversation with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Regional Lead – North East Ambition, Matt Joyce; and College Hub Facilitator, Kim Smith, about the new WorldSkills UK Higher Technical Education Toolkit

In July of this year, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a major overhaul of higher technical education in Britain.

The announcement follows a government review that found higher technical education can help unlock the skills employers need and lead to highly skilled, well paid jobs for young people.

Part of the reason for the changes to higher technical education are a result of the low level of uptake in courses, and the outdated perception that this important route to employment is in some way inferior to gaining a degree, which is not the case at all.

One of the biggest differences will be the introduction of a new quality mark, signaling that technical education courses provide the skills employers need. This is really important as it demonstrates the key role industry plays in technical education, and how employer standards sit at their very heart.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership is well placed to promote higher technical education as a prestigious career route for young people thanks to its dedicated College Hub, which comprises all nine general FE Colleges and two of the largest sixth form institutions in North East LEP area. The North East LEP is also committed to the Independent Training Provider network through both the LEP’s Apprenticeship Group and Skills Advisory Panel.

Because of our role in supporting colleges to design and implement quality careers education – including the Good Career Guidance benchmarks – we were approached by The Gatsby Foundation and WorldSkills UK to contribute to their digital careers toolkit, which has a focus on higher technical education. The resource is designed specifically for career leaders, young people, parents and employers.

WorldSkills UK is an independent charity supported by 80 member countries that works to raise the standards in apprenticeships and technical education so more young people get the best start in work and life. We were very proud to be asked to take part and have the opportunity to profile the great work of our further education institutions in the North East.

Newcastle College, New College Durham and Education Partnership North East were invited to contribute to an educational video resource about higher technical education, with each institution providing a unique perspective on the matter. Newcastle College is part of the country’s largest college group and has higher education awarding powers. New College Durham leads the new North East Institute of Technology (IOT) – of which the North East LEP is a key strategic partner – and Education Partnership North East has a strong technical education offer and plays an integral role in influencing the national careers agenda through engagement on National FE & Skills steering groups.

The video looks at how higher technical education offers a route into skilled work, the subjects people can study, and raises awareness of the role further education colleges play in the delivery of higher technical qualifications that complement the higher education offers provided at universities. The video is available to view here.

It’s really important that careers leaders, young people, parents and employees and employers know more about technical education. The academic route to employment isn’t for everyone, and we need to remove the stigma around practical, skills based qualifications like Apprenticeships, T-levels, Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas. They don’t ‘lock you in’ to sectors at too young an age, and they are not inferior qualifications; in fact outcomes suggest quite the opposite. They are excellent pathways for creating a positive identity for young people that are motivated by having a professional identity.

Higher technical qualifications provide entry into the jobs of the future. The first qualifications available from 2022 will focus exclusively on digital; supporting people into occupations like network engineers, cyber-security technologists and software developers. In 2023 more higher technical qualifications will be available, covering the construction and health and sciences sectors. It’s important we remember that some young people know what they want to do as a career, and that professional identity motivates them through education.

Within the North East LEP area we have a really strong offering around higher technical education and that will help us build a skilled workforce for the future, drive economic growth, and create more and better jobs for the North East.

By Matt Joyce, Regional Lead – North East Ambition, and Kim Smith, College Hub Facilitator, at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.