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Andrew Clark, Energy Lead at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, on the publication of the Green Jobs Taskforce report

In November 2020, government published its ambitious ten point plan for a green industrial revolution in the UK.

Focused on increasing ambition in emerging and growing sectors like offshore wind, low carbon hydrogen, and electrification, it cemented government’s aim to build back better from the coronavirus pandemic, support green jobs, and accelerate the UK’s path to net zero.

Announced as part of the ten point plan was the formation of a new Green Jobs Taskforce – made up of representatives from industry, trade unions, and the skills sector – which would set the direction of travel for the green jobs market.

On 15 July, the Green Jobs Taskforce published its first report to government, industry, and the skills sector, outlining the importance of investing in the UK workforce to ensure people develop the right skills to deliver the country’s net zero transition, and thrive in a green economy it creates.

The report is of particular relevance to the North East, where green jobs are poised to transform our economy. We are already one of the world’s leading destinations for offshore wind, and recent investments from Nissan and Britishvolt have put our region at the forefront of the electric vehicle market. Innovations in heat networks and other forms of low carbon heat – including mine energy – also position the North East to become the UK’s first low carbon heat cluster, which will see the region benefit greatly from the growth of the green economy.

So how do we plan to maximise on this unique opportunity and play a central role in helping the UK reach its net zero target by 2050? Working alongside partners in industry and academia, we’re mapping the current and future skills needs in the green economy to ensure sectors in the North East – particularly those with the biggest potential for growth – have access to the talent and expertise they need to scale.

As facilitator of the skills workstream for Energi Coast – North East England’s offshore wind cluster – the North East Local Enterprise Partnership is working with industry and the education sector to develop an action plan to meet the needs of the sector with demand-led provision. Central to this is the commitment to increase diversity and inclusion in the offshore wind industry, and the group is actively working with employers to review their current recruitment and retention processes to ensure opportunities are provided to all.

The Energi Coast skills group is also working on a series of case studies that will reflect the partnership approach adopted by the offshore wind industry, the education sector, and government, in ensuring green careers advice is available to people in all sectors and at every stage of the career journey; reinforcing the importance of reskilling and retraining in creating new green jobs.

The low carbon heat supply chain is another significant growth area for the region’s economy, and we’ve recently completed a piece of work to identify the opportunities that exist both now, and in the future, for supply chain businesses, and what this will mean for skills demands. Additionally, as outlined in our Recovery and Renewal Deal for the North East, we’re addressing the need for investment in skills and training around retrofitting by working with the North East and Yorkshire Local Energy Hub on a housing retrofit skills model.

The North East’s significant automotive cluster and hub of activity in the battery and electric vehicles sectors means it’s well placed as a UK centre to meet the global demand for electric vehicles, and help lead innovation in the sector. Nissan’s decision to open a new gigfactory battery plant at its site in Sunderland, and the news Britishvolt will open another gigfactory in Northumberland, demonstrates the industry’s level of confidence in the North East. To ensure we have the skills to meet the demand, we’re working with the North East Automotive Alliance to address skills development in electrification and electric vehicle batteries.

The North East LEP’s Skills team is working alongside the eight early adopter status T-Level providers in the region to help strengthen their links with the business community, ensuring the new vocational qualifications – which include a 45-day industry placement – meet the needs of employers, and help deliver the skills needed to meet the green jobs of the future.

The Skills team is also working with the North East Institute of Technology, local colleges, and major employers like Nissan and Esh Group, to highlight Higher Technical Qualifications in subjects like advanced manufacturing and other STEM topics, as skills in these areas will be central to delivering the green industrial revolution in the UK.

The green economies of the future offer a huge opportunity for the North East to grow its economy and create thousands of more and better jobs. But to do that, we need to invest in skills – both in our future workforce via schools, colleges and universities, but also in our workplaces, by re-training and re-skilling our existing workforce.

In doing so we’ll position the North East as a major destination for skills and talent in green jobs, helping attract more businesses to invest here, ensuring the North East is at the forefront of the UK’s green industrial revolution.

Read more about the North East LEP’s work to support and grow the North East energy sector.

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Hundreds of job placements on offer for young people in the North East

Hundreds of paid, six-month job placements for young people are being advertised as part of a new government scheme to help people aged 16 to 24 secure employment.

Employers ranging from The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland, to Newcastle United FC are recruiting as part of the new Kickstart scheme.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP), explains: “Kickstart is designed to help young people who are receiving Universal Credit take the first steps into their future careers. Whether they want to be an engineer, a chef or a social media expert, there are positions available which will help them gain the skills and experience they will need in the future.”

Automotive manufacturer, Unipres, is one of the businesses that has already taken on placements through the Kickstart scheme.

Rob Dodds, Apprentice Coordinator at Unipres, explained: “The reason we got involved is that it’s an ideal opportunity to give young people a chance to gain valuable experience in the workplace.

“They’re indispensable to the business as well – it’s another form of recruitment for us and these are the future stars. It’s a win-win situation for the business and for the placements.”

20-year-old Ehsan Izadi, who is working as part of the Quality Assurance team at Unipres, said: “I was working in a pizza shop but when COVID came around, the shop was closed. I was looking for a job and saw the opportunity with Unipres. It was easy to apply through the job centre and it was a big opportunity for me.

“I like learning and improving my CV – if you have six months experience at Unipres it’s really important for your CV.”

Joanne Jobling, Service Leader for DWP in Northumberland Tyne & Wear said: “We have a fantastic range of opportunities available for young people in the North East which can now be seen on the North East LEP website. Between now and the end of December we would like to encourage employers to get involved, and help to shape the workforce of the future.” 

Kickstart vacancies are listed online at https://www.northeastlep.co.uk/kickstart-opportunities/. They are open to people aged 16 to 24 who are receiving Universal Credit.

Businesses in the North East can apply to join the Kickstart Scheme through the North East Growth Hub, at NorthEastGrowthHub.co.uk (search for ‘Kickstart’).

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North East businesses helping young people at risk of long-term unemployment into work

Employers in the North East are helping young people at risk of long term unemployment take their first steps into the workplace.

Businesses including Sunderland-based automotive manufacturer Unipres have signed up to the Kickstart Scheme, which provides funding to employers to create six month job placements for people aged between 16 and 24 who are receiving Universal Credit.

Unipres currently employs 35 Kickstart trainees and has plans to recruit five more in the next few weeks.

Rob Dodds, Apprentice Coordinator at Unipres, explained: “The reason we got involved is that it’s an ideal opportunity to give young people a chance to gain valuable experience in the workplace.

“They’re indispensable to the business as well – it’s another form of recruitment for us and these are the future stars. It’s a win-win situation for the business and for the trainees.”

The Kickstart Scheme offers funding to cover the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions. Funding is also available to support young people to develop new skills and to help them move into sustained employment after they have completed their Kickstart-funded job.

20-year-old Ehsan Izadi, who is working as part of the Quality Assurance team at Unipres, said: “I was working in a pizza shop but when COVID came around, the shop was closed. I was looking for a job and saw the opportunity with Unipres. It was easy to apply through the job centre and it was a big opportunity for me.

“I like learning and improving my CV – if you have six months experience at Unipres it’s really important for your CV.”

Another North East business taking part in the Kickstart scheme is Northumbrian Water. Kay Penney, Human Resources Director at Northumbrian Water, said: “When the Kickstart Scheme was announced by the Government, we jumped at the opportunity to support young people to increase their employment prospects.

“So many of our workforce have come to us as young people, taking their first steps in the world of work, or returning to employment after enforced breaks, and they have become valuable employees playing important roles in our business.

“The jobs market is a very competitive place at the moment, whatever experience you have, but we know many young people are really finding it hard to get a break. We hope that the experience, learning and qualification they get from coming to us through the Kickstart Scheme will give them a valuable step up.”

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, added: “Through Kickstart, businesses can help young people gain skills and experience that will help them to avoid long-term unemployment.

“And of course, support like this is especially important now, as so many young people have seen their plans affected by the pandemic. The fact that the North East business community has the opportunity to step up and help young people avoid unemployment is fantastic.”

Joanne Jobling, Service Leader for DWP in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear said:

“Kickstart has already made a remarkable difference to the lives of many young people – with the support of businesses, we want to maximise the impact of Kickstart in the North East, changing more lives for the better and supporting our economy now and in the future. We are working closely with the North East LEP and other key partners to encourage as many young people as possible to contact their local jobcentre to apply for the fantastic opportunities that are being created.”

Businesses in the North East can apply to join the Kickstart Scheme through the North East Growth Hub. Businesses can also register to join an online event by the IoD North East on 30 June, explaining more about Kickstart. Register for a free place here.

Kickstart vacancies in the North East will be advertised via northeastopportunities.co.uk.

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In conversation with Ellen Thinnesen, Chair of the North East Skills Advisory Panel, about the LEP’s annual review and importance of creating career opportunities for all

We’re used to hearing about the tremendous opportunities on the horizon in the North East, in sectors such as digital, advanced manufacturing, and health and life sciences. The North East LEP is working with a wide range of educators, businesses, and policymakers to make sure people across the region can access these jobs – and that the opportunity is open to everyone.

We talked to Ellen Thinnesen, Chair of the North East Skills Advisory Panel and Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East (comprising Sunderland, Northumberland and Hartlepool Sixth Form colleges) about the drive to provide good jobs for each and every person in our region.

For the last few years, learning institutions from across the region have been involved in an innovative scheme partnering education and business.

Through the Ford Next Generation Learning project, students have worked with employers on projects that tackle real industry challenges. Together they have collaborated to support our region’s young people to develop and apply skills in areas such as maths and English, and to enhance their leadership and teamwork abilities.

One young person said they’d met as many as 10 to 15 employers in the first six weeks of their academic year alone, from guest speakers to industry professionals assisting with projects. .

It’s a great example of how students, businesses, educators and the local community can work together to help people discover careers that could become their future.

We’re hoping to see plenty of opportunities emerge in the North East in the near future. The region could be a home for more and better jobs in offshore energy and subsea, advanced vehicle manufacturing, modern methods of construction, pharmaceuticals, life sciences, and digital, to name but a few.

We want each and every person in the North East to aspire to those jobs.

We want each and every child to understand the possibilities that are out there for them, regardless of background or circumstances.

And we want each and every adult to have the chance to re-train, and enjoy a fulfilling new career.

That journey starts early. Research tells us that our ideas about who we are and what we can do in our lives are shaped by the age of seven. So starting careers guidance at nine or 10 is too late. Our North East Ambition pilot worked with 70 primary schools to teach young children about careers, and we’ve already seen exciting signs of impact. It’s an opportunity to shape attitudes for the better across the North East.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced us to adapt how we worked, but it never dampened our commitment. Our Skills Advisory Panel agreed to meet weekly in the initial stages of lockdown, facilitating conversations between employers, government, the NHS and education providers. We collected monthly data and intelligence, and helped our partners support young people into the next phase of their learning or training.

We’ve seen an incredible amount of collaboration, adaptation and generosity from our community during this time. This included bringing education online, developing virtual work experience programmes, and even helping students fund laptops for home study.

However, the work is not yet done. In our Local Skills Report in March, we noted that many businesses were expecting to make redundancies or close sites this year. And the damage caused by the pandemic has heavily affected over-50s, who may find themselves unemployed despite having incredible experience and skills. We need to provide support and re-training opportunities, but also think about the whole person, and what they want and need.

Across the North East, we’ve demonstrated the amazing things we can do when we work together. But we want to think bigger. We want to tap into that powerful collective spirit even more, and give every person in this region the chance to craft better skills, better jobs, and better lives.

Ellen Thinnesen, Chair of the North East Skills Advisory Panel and Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East.

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North East Ambition expanded to future-proof workforces

A programme designed to improve careers guidance in North East schools has been such a huge success, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is expanding it to support businesses and ensure a skills pipeline for the future.

North East Ambition was launched in 2017 to ensure all North East schools and colleges achieve the Gatsby Good Career Guidance benchmarks by 2024.

Use of the Benchmarks has been proven to lead to better student outcomes and raise aspirations among pupils, so much so they were adopted by Government and feature in its national education strategy.

Now North East Ambition will work with businesses to assess their future skills requirements and open up opportunities to develop and upskill their workforce, partnering with the Education Development Trust to deliver the programme.

Dedicated skills facilitators will work directly with businesses to identify their long-term needs and develop a bespoke plan to support them in addressing current and future skills gaps.

Information for businesses will also be added to the North East Ambition portal, alongside a Data Hub to provide the latest labour market information.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East LEP said: “The expansion of North East Ambition is a great way to continue to build upon the fantastic work that has been done so far.

“We know the labour market is facing rapid change with increased digitisation and new technologies and businesses will need to prepare for and adapt to that.

“By harnessing the success of North East Ambition, we can engage with businesses and facilitate the collaboration needed to allow employers to invest in the right skills and future-proof their workforce.”

Elaine Inglis, Assistant Director, Careers, at Education Development Trust commented: “We are very excited to be building on the excellent work undertaken by the North East LEP in establishing the North East Ambition programme.

“Having employees with the right skills will play a key role in helping local employers recover from the effects that COVID19 has had on the economy. We know that for many SMEs it can be challenging to understand what skills development and training options are available and how to access these, which is where we can provide support.”

A key part of the North East LEP’s strategic economic plan, North East Ambition built on the hugely successful Good Career Guidance benchmarks pilot, which saw sixteen schools and colleges in the North East LEP area successfully implement the benchmarks identified by Sir John Holman and the Gatsby Foundation. The North East Ambition programme is part-funded by the European Social Fund.

An independent report recently praised the Pilot for its transformational effect on careers guidance in the region.

For more information, visit www.northeastambition.co.uk/business.

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A workforce fit for the future

How can we make sure that people in the North East are equipped with the skills that businesses will need in 10, 20 or 50 years’ time? Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), talks about the work that is taking place to build a skilled, sustainable future for the North East.

Each year, the skills team here at the North East LEP works with businesses, schools, colleges and training providers to make sure that young people in our region are given the best possible start to their careers.

Everything we do is about building a stronger, brighter future for everyone in the North East, and by bringing business and education closer together, we can help make sure that the skills our young people gain match the needs of our business community.

As part of this vision, we’ve partnered with schools to embed the Good Careers Guidance benchmarks, which place employer engagement at the heart of careers education, and we’ve worked hard to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on businesses as they continue to provide apprenticeships, training opportunities, and work experience to young people.

We have recently reviewed our activity over the last year and I’m very pleased to say that, despite the challenges everyone has faced, and thanks to the commitment of our local businesses, schools and colleges, we are still making strides towards ensuring that each and every young person in the North East has the chance to learn about the full range of careers opportunities available to them.

The support of the business community is essential in achieving this, and by working together I’m confident we can ensure that the skills of tomorrow’s workforce matches the future needs of businesses.

Our work in schools is not just with older pupils; we’ve recently expanded the reach of the Good Careers Guidance Benchmarks to primary schools, working with a pilot group to adapt the framework to suit the needs of younger children, who can begin to form ideas about their future careers when they’re as young as five.

Again, the involvement of employers has been essential, and businesses including automotive manufacturer Unipres, and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, have worked with us to give primary pupils a taste of the world of work, helping to broaden their horizons and raise their aspirations.

The North East LEP also helps employers to upskill their existing staff, and supports older workers to take stock of their skills and experience, signposting to training and advice that can help people to have rewarding careers for longer. This is particularly important as we see increasing digitalisation across all sectors, so our Skills Advisory Panel has a strong focus on future skills requirements, to make sure that the North East has an inclusive, digitally-enabled economy.

As we build back stronger following the impact of the pandemic, we will continue to work together with businesses, schools and training providers to help companies to grow and help people of all ages take full advantage of the increasing opportunities in our region.

Find out more about the North East LEP’s skills programmes.

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Universities in the North East vow to help region bounce back stronger from COVID-19

Universities, employers, and local leaders will be working together to create thousands of local jobs as the recovery from the pandemic gathers pace.

New research published by Universities UK (UUK), ‘Universities and the UK’s economic recovery: an analysis of future impact’, which was compiled by the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE), predicts that over the next five years universities in the North East will:

  • Be involved in research projects with partners worth almost £1 billion.
  • Help 725 new businesses and charities to be formed.
  • Train over 10,000 nurses, almost 4,000 medics and 8,000 teachers.

The research is published as UUK launches #GettingResults – a campaign to put universities at the heart of the economic and social recovery – with a renewed commitment from universities to do even more to reach out to new partners locally and nationally and deliver even greater impact than currently estimated.

The work is being overseen by a newly created Universities UK Economic and Social Taskforce, which is led by Professor Chris Day, Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University, and a board member of Universities UK.

Professor Day said:

“Universities are at the heart of the nation’s recovery from the pandemic. Over the past year we have seen first-hand what can be achieved through strong collaboration between our universities and their partners.

“Now universities want to do more, to help the UK to bounce back stronger, with opportunity and prosperity spread across the country. We are looking to form strategic partnerships with employers and sector bodies throughout the UK to strengthen collaboration between universities and their partners.

“A great example of this is the Newcastle Helix, a £350m development with 2,600 jobs in 65 different organisations on the site. This true coming together of academia, business, public sector and more has been innovating and collaborating to support the global fight against COVID-19. Not only to combat the immediate impacts but preparing cities and regions for our post-covid world.”

Throughout the pandemic, businesses, and a wide range of sectors not just within the North East region, but across the UK, have suffered greatly, leading to economic and social damage. The contributions made by universities and their students through knowledge and skills exchange, partnerships and support for local employers have huge potential to help businesses, industries, and other partners to continue, recover and thrive following the pandemic.

The skills of graduates from Newcastle, Durham, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside universities will also have an important role to play in the future success of businesses and sectors during the Covid-19 recovery process.

  • Newcastle University has been running bootcamps for student or graduate entrepreneurs.  One successful enterprise has been the creation of the ‘Spareable‘ app which enables individuals to donate to their local food bank remotely to save time and food waste. The platform is now providing 25% more food for food banks and its founder – Electronic Business and Information Systems MSc graduate Masitano Sichone – was recently named a ‘Top 100 Changemaker 2020 Defeating Poverty.’
  • Durham University, Sphera UK is a student spinout based in Stockton-on-Tees that is focussed on developing carbon zero and carbon negative concrete blocks. Their innovation pipeline includes a concrete accelerant to speed up concrete curing rate and decrease cement content. These pioneering solutions are developed to help tackle climate change by offering the industry low carbon material alternatives that specifically focus on embodied carbon content.
  • Newcastle Business School, at Northumbria University, has worked with the Small Business Charter over the past year to provide a government-funded programme for leaders of small businesses across the North of England to survive and thrive following the Covid-19 pandemic. Through this Small Business Leadership programme Northumbria supported more than 180 businesses across the North East and Cumbria. Based on its success, Northumbria has now been selected as the only university in the region to deliver a follow-up programme called Help to Grow Management. The new programme is backed by £150 million of additional Government funding to help up to 30,000 SMEs across the UK – including a significant number in the North East.
  • Over the past year, Teesside University has assisted more than 220 small and medium sized businesses with 339 projects. It has also helped launch 11 new businesses, worked with a total of 34 start-ups, and prepared 26 budding entrepreneurs through the Microbiz Academy programme. The University has also matched 156 graduate interns with work in Tees Valley businesses and provided digital skills training for 276 people.
  • The University of Sunderland has recently established the new £1.6million Digital Incubator at St Peter’s Campus, which is already playing a key role in supporting entrepreneurial students who want to establish their own online businesses, many of which will be based in the north-east.

Durham University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge said:

“At Durham University we’ve been part of the North East landscape for nearly 200 years and we make a significant positive contribution to the regional economy.

“We’re proud of the support we offer our academics and students in their launching of innovative businesses here in the North East, creating high-quality jobs and driving the economy. From electrochemical wound healing to efficient electrical circuits in space, our departments are at the forefront of innovation.”

Professor Andrew Wathey CBE, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Northumbria University, said:

“We are more strongly enthused than ever by our roles as anchor institutions, as major employers and as key partners in driving regional economic and social recovery. It has never been more important, given the enormous challenges created by Covid-19, and the huge opportunities to shape the North East’s economic landscape through our research and our graduates, that we work together to address need and maximise impact.

“We know that Northumbria’s investments in high-level skills, research, entrepreneurship and economic growth, and improving employment opportunities, are key to helping the North East build forward better and shape a better future.  As the largest provider of graduates in the North East’s professional and managerial jobs market we are also strongly placed to deliver highly-skilled graduates to the regional workforce as it grows, modernises and develops.”

Sir David Bell KCB DL, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland, said: “As we begin to rebuild from the pandemic, the role of universities is more relevant than ever.

“Data released recently in Research England’s first Knowledge Exchange Framework revealed the University of Sunderland to be in the top 10% of universities nationally for contributing to local growth and regeneration, through projects like the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) initiative, which has just been evaluated as contributing a gross £43 million to the regional economy.”

Teesside University Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Professor Paul Croney said:

“Teesside University has worked tirelessly during the pandemic to support and strengthen communities.

“The University has offered skills, expertise, facilities and time, producing much needed PPE, training healthcare workers, bolstering the frontline and volunteer response and enabling businesses to pivot to online operating models. Our commitment to working in partnership to deliver social impact powers our mission to transform lives and economies, and we will continue to deliver this as we support the UK to build back better.”

Find out more about Universities UK’s #GettingResults campaign www.universitiesuk.ac.uk.

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Stepping into the world of work: making it easier for businesses to deliver work placements for young people

A new work experience framework, which will help employers work together with schools and colleges to give young people experience of the world of work, is now available in the North East. Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), explains how it works.

Providing young people with first-hand experience of the world of work is something which can help set them up for the future. It allows them to explore a range of jobs, develop skills which they’ll need once they leave school, and it helps to break down stereotypes and preconceptions about the kinds of roles that they see themselves going into.

For employers, it builds links with the next generation and allows you to raise the profile of your business and sector with tomorrow’s workforce. But creating a work experience programme isn’t always easy.

We know that businesses in our region recognise the importance of work experience, but we also know that some businesses want support to develop relationships with schools and to make sure that their placements are giving young people a really meaningful experience of the workplace which builds on what they learn in the classroom.

This is why the North East LEP team has worked with employers, schools and colleges to develop a new work experience framework.

The framework is freely available online for employers and schools to use, and it provides a structure for placements, making sure that young people get a meaningful experience, and helping businesses to carry on with their work experience programmes in the wake of the pandemic.

The framework contains 12 modules which cover topics such as goal-setting and employer feedback. It helps schools and businesses to structure their placements, including options for face-to-face or virtual experiences, or a blended approach. And it helps students to prepare for their placement, meaning that they begin with an understanding of your business and what they want to gain from their time with you.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more businesses are producing videos and 360 degree tours, and the framework shows you how to make the most of these and make them part of a comprehensive work experience programme.

The framework can be adapted to suit businesses of different sizes and in different sectors, and if you would like more support to create your work experience programme, the skills team at the North East LEP is on hand to help.

We piloted the framework with the help of 750 secondary students who told us that it helped them to understand expectations in the workplace, and their own strengths and skills. “It was a brilliant experience. I would love to do it again. Thank you so much,” said one student.

The response from businesses has been really positive as well, with 100% of businesses that took part in the pilot saying that the framework was easy to use, flexible and adaptable.

As businesses, schools and communities begin to recover from the impact of COVID-19, the importance of high quality work experience for young people can’t be forgotten. Now this framework is available, I hope as many businesses as possible will make use of it and help young people in our region take their first steps into the world of work.

The North East LEP’s work experience framework is available at NorthEastAmbition.co.uk.

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Remedying skills shortages in the health and life sciences sector

The new North East Health, Life Sciences and Medicines Manufacturing Strategy aims to double the number of jobs in this sector in the North East, and also to double the number of businesses active in the sector. The North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) Interim Programme Manager for Health and Life Sciences, Karen Burgess, explains how the sector is working together to tackle barriers to growth, including a shortage of specialist skills.

Health and life sciences is an area where the North East has significant strengths, and it’s an area where we know there’s real potential for growth. We launched the North East Health, Life Sciences and Medicines Manufacturing Strategy earlier this year to identify the opportunities for expansion, and also to tackle any challenges that might be in the way of businesses creating more and better jobs in our region.

One challenge which was quickly identified is skills. We carried out research with medicines manufacturing businesses in our region and found that, while most businesses operating in this sector have plans to expand their workforce, many of them experience difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff with the skills they need.

Of course, plans to recruit more staff is a positive, and will help us reach the goal of increasing the number of jobs in the sector from 12,000 to 24,000 by 2030. However, as businesses grow and advertise more vacancies, the existing skills shortage will be exacerbated.

Our research into skills needs of these businesses found that:

  • Just over 80% of the medicines manufacturing companies that we spoke to currently have vacancies at their North East sites
  • 55% of organisations have had trouble filling vacancies due to candidates lacking digital skills
  • 100% of organisations we spoke to have experienced difficulties filling vacancies due to candidates lacking technical skills, experience or qualifications
  • 72% of employers pay the apprenticeship levy but the total number of apprenticeships in the sector is low

It’s clear that we need to take action to help businesses recruit more effectively and upskill their existing workforce where necessary. That’s why the North East LEP has formed the new Health and Life Sciences Skills Group, where industry, educators and skills awarding bodies are working together to build a skills framework to enable the sector to grow and thrive in our region.

The group aims to build stronger links between employers and education providers, so that we can make sure that students are equipped with the skills that employers will need in the future, and that businesses have the opportunity to help inspire young people about the range of careers paths on offer to them.

By collaborating to address the issues employers face around the recruitment and upskilling of staff, we can grow our pool of talent with the specialist skills needed in the sector and support the workforce to adapt as the manufacturing process becomes digitalised, increasing the need for people to acquire more digital skills. The group will also support the next phase of our research to understand the skills needs of other areas of the life sciences sector.

By bringing industry and educators together, I’m confident we can remedy the problems raised by skills shortages, and build a healthier, stronger environment for businesses to grow.

Read the Health and Life Sciences Skills Report here, and email [email protected] to find out how to get involved in the Health and Life Sciences Skills Group.