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New report highlights impact of digital exclusion on access to education and employment in the North East

A new report published by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) has highlighted the impact digital exclusion in the North East LEP area is having on people’s ability to access education, skills and employment.

Commissioned by the North East LEP’s Skills Advisory Panel (SAP), ‘Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area’ looks specifically at the economic and skills-related impacts of digital exclusion in County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

Published alongside IPPR North’s ‘Addressing digital exclusion in North East England’ research paper, the LEP’s digital exclusion report was carried out by New Skills Consulting.

Using data from the Office for National Statistics, it shows more than 200,000 people in the North East LEP area have either never used the internet, or have not used it in the last three months. It also reinforces existing findings that show people from disadvantaged backgrounds are most affected by digital exclusion.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: ‘Whilst we know digital exclusion is a problem in the North East, the coronavirus pandemic has really exacerbated the issue and highlighted why we must address it now.

“This report has allowed us to see the scale of the problem for the first time, and how COVID-19 has extended the gap that already existed in our region.

“If we truly want to level up the country and provide opportunities for all, we must address the issue of digital exclusion, and we must do it in partnership with businesses, education, the voluntary sector, and the public sector.”

‘Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area’ highlights that whilst the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital adoption, it has also widened the gap in areas like education and employment, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. A lack of in-person support during the pandemic has made it easier for people to withdraw, and limited access to digital devices has prevented people from accessing online training, job searches, and interviews.

Employers have also raised concerns about a lack of digital skills within the region’s workforce. A survey by the Department for Education in 2019 found 20% of North East employers found it difficult to recruit applicants with computer literacy or basic IT skills. 26% said they found it difficult to recruit people with advanced or specialist IT skills.

The report also looks at the effectiveness of existing initiatives to address digital exclusion, arguing that the current system is complex, with overlapping programmes and gaps in support. It also argues that much of the support available quickly becomes out of date and doesn’t meet the learning needs of people using the services.

Michelle continued: “If we look to countries like Finland, digital literacy is something that’s taught from kindergarten, it has the same level of importance as reading, writing and math’s.

“Whatever our agreed approach moving forward, we need to recognise that this issue isn’t just something that affects young people; it impacts people of all ages and at every stage in their lives. If people can’t access online tools to extend their learning, or can’t search and apply for employment opportunities online, how can they get into work or move up the career ladder from low-skill to high-skill jobs?”

The report puts forward a series of recommendations, recognising that the region’s response requires the support of academia; business; the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector; and the public sector.

Carol Botten, CEO of VONNE (Voluntary Organisations Network North East) and member of the North East LEP Skills Advisory Panel (SAP), said: “Some of the recommendations in our report can be delivered regionally, but others will need the support of Government and other stakeholders.

“We need to address the problem of access to digital devices, and how connectivity can be an additional barrier to people using digital services.

“We also need to prioritise education in digital skills from an early age, and ensure it becomes part of the curriculum in further and higher education.

“And by working with the business community, we can begin to develop a common framework for basic digital skills that meets the needs of employers.”

Michelle concluded: “Using the insights from this report and the IPPR North report, we plan to raise awareness of the scale of the challenge, agree a collective vision for the North East, and draw up the key areas we need to prioritise and address.

“This is a huge challenge for our region, and we won’t be able to tackle it all in one go. But we can start the process and make sure no one in the North East is left behind because they lack access to the digital skills, equipment and infrastructure so many of us take for granted.”

Read the Executive Summary of Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area by visiting the North East Evidence Hub.

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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)*.

Richard Baker said: “We’re now starting to see the shape of the labour market in the region as the economy moves out of Covid-related restrictions and support.

“The overall picture in today’s figures is of a labour market which is in recovery, but with a changed structure since early 2020. This recovery is tentative, with other data showing a slow-down in recent growth, the influence of other factors such as skills shortages in a number of sectors, and the need for support for workers to adapt to the changing demands of the labour market. There is some way to go to return to the pre-pandemic position.

“The latest regional employment data release covers the May to July three month period, during which some Covid-19 restrictions were eased. The ONS has also released experimental payroll data which provides more up to date data and also new data that provides the first statistics for local areas for a period entirely after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic (Apr 2020-Mar 2021).

“During May-July, the number of people aged 16 and over in employment in the North East region increased by over 7,000 compared to the previous quarter, although the total is still 18,000 less than in the same period during 2020. The number of unemployed people decreased by 12,000, compared to the previous quarter. The data suggests that some of this decrease was due to people leaving the labour market.

“The experimental pay roll measure shows an increase of 2,500 in the number of payrolled employees in the North East LEP area in August, and the total is now 7,500 higher than in March 2020. This source does not cover all people in employment, excluding, for example, self-employed workers.

“Comparing the newly released employment totals in the North East LEP area for the April 2020-March 2021 period with those a year earlier shows the impact of Covid-19 on self-employed and part-time workers in the area. 

“The overall decrease in employment of 10,000 (1.1%) was driven by a fall of over 17,000 in self-employment. Among the area’s part-time workers, employment decreased by 9,500, compared to a drop of 500 in the number of full-time workers. 

“Overall, the North East continues to have the second highest regional unemployment rate (5.3% of the economically active) among the nine English regions. The region also has the highest proportion of 16 to 64-year olds who are economically inactive (23.9%).

“At the end of July, about 41,000 workers in the North East LEP area were still furloughed, representing about 5.2% of all eligible employees. About 22% of these furloughed workers were in manufacturing, with 16% in food and accommodation services and most of the rest in other service sectors. More than half of furloughed workers in the North East region were on partial furlough, highlighting the gradual return to pre-Covid levels of employment.

“This data shows that there are opportunities to drive forward, but a number of challenges which need ongoing stimulus to the economy and support for individuals and businesses. The North East LEP will continue to work with Government and our partners to provide support to our regional economy as we work through the recovery phase and to seek investment into the proposals in our Recovery Plan to help accelerate our recovery.”

*The official data released today includes employment information based on surveys in three month period May to July 2021 for the North East region, which includes the North East and Tees Valley LEP areas. It also includes experimental estimates of payrolled employee numbers for August 2021 and LEP area data for the 12 month period April 2020-March 2021. The data has recently been revised to take account of improved population estimates.

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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)*.

“The latest data covers the March to May period, during which some COVID-19 restrictions were eased. Despite these changes, the overall labour market picture remained relatively unchanged on the previous (December to February) quarter with both the employment and unemployment rates remaining the same. 

“The North East continues to have the lowest working-age employment rate (72.0%) among the nine English regions and the second highest unemployment rate (5.8% of the economically active). The region also has the highest proportion of people who are economically inactive (23.6%).

“ONS continue to innovate with new data approaches to provide more up to date intelligence to support assessment of the economy, for example, a new experimental measure of payrolled employees. This suggests a more positive picture with the latest monthly estimate showing there was an increase of almost 12,000 payrolled employees in June. This is encouraging and we will monitor how this new data set develops given it is subject to revision and excludes information about self-employed workers.

“Beneath the general figures, COVID-19 continues to have an impact on the working lives of many people in the North East region and appears to be exacerbating inequalities. Whilst people were securing new jobs and there is growth in vacancies, about 4,400 workers experienced redundancy in the latest quarter, more than twice the total in the previous quarter and bringing the total to over 32,000 since March 2020. The latest data shows a particular impact on women in the North East with female employment falling by 3,600 in the latest quarter, in contrast to a 2,800 increase among males.

“Job seekers claimant count data provides indications of the variations of unemployment within the North East LEP area. At constituency level, the rates range from 2.8% in Hexham to 9.0% in South Shields.

“At the end of May, almost 63,000 workers in the North East LEP area were still furloughed, with workers in food and accommodation services still making up almost a quarter of this figure. Manufacturing accounted for 11,000 of the furloughed workers, a total that did not drop during those three months. 

“This provides a strong rationale for the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda with support needed to the North East as a whole and for places within the region. Over the longer term, our Recovery Plan sets out proposals to drive forward our vision of a more sustainable, competitive and inclusive regional economy. As the Prime Minister outlines the next steps with for the Levelling Up strategy, the North East LEP will continue to work with Government and our partners to provide support to our regional economy as we work through the recovery phase to seek investment into these proposals.”

*The official data released today includes employment information based on surveys in three month period March to May 2021 for the North East region, which includes the North East and Tees Valley LEP areas. It also includes experimental estimates of payrolled employee numbers and job seekers claimant count numbers for June 2021. The regional data has been revised to take account of improved population estimates.

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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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North East Local Enterprise Partnership reaction to ONS regional labour market statistics – June 2021.

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)*.  

“The headline North East regional employment data confirms the progressive improvement of the economy as Covid-19 controls are released, but also shows clearly that there is a long way to go for our region. The latest employment total was 2,000 higher than in the previous quarter, while unemployment had decreased by 4,000.  

“Despite these improvements, the region had the lowest regional employment rate at 71.9%, compared to 75.5% across England and the unemployment rate (5.9% of the economically active) was the second highest in England. The North East also continues to have the highest percentage of working age people who are economically inactive (23.5%). 

“COVID-19 continues to have an impact on the working lives of many people in the North East region. About 4,500 workers experienced redundancy in the latest quarter, bringing the total to 29,000 in the latest 12 months. In addition, 48,000 self-employed workers in the region had claimed support in the first few weeks of the latest grant of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).  

“At the end of April, over 115,000 workers in the region were still furloughed and, although classified as employed in the official statistics, many were in an uncertain position about their futures. Over a quarter of these worked in food and accommodation services and 8% were in arts, entertainment and recreation. As we have heard from industry leaders this week, jobs in these sectors are particularly likely to be impacted by yesterday’s four-week extension of restrictions.  

“The latest job seekers claimant count data continues to highlight how the impact is uneven in different places with large variations in unemployment within the North East LEP area. There are 25 wards, spread across all seven local authorities, with a claimant count rate of 10 per cent or more, while 18 wards have rates of less than a quarter of that. This count also highlighted that one in five claimants in the North East LEP area were aged under 25. 

It is essential that Government continues to balance health risks and economic impacts ensuring that there is a steady and predictable pathway to removing controls for business and employers, and that decisions to slow progress are accompanied with ongoing support to the economy. 

Over the longer term, our Recovery Plan sets out proposals to drive forward our vision of a more sustainable, competitive and inclusive regional economy. The North East LEP will continue to work with Government and our partners to provide support to our economy over the next few months and seek investment into these proposals. 

*The official data released today includes employment information based on surveys in three month period February to April 2021 for the North East region, which includes the North East and Tees Valley LEP areas. It also includes experimental estimates of payrolled employee numbers and job seekers claimant count numbers for May 2021. 

Ends. 

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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).

“As we mark the anniversary of the first lockdown, today’s data release is a timely reminder of the changes which COVID-19 has meant for our labour market. It provides the latest official data which includes regional employment information for the three months up to and including January 2021 and also annual comparisons.

“In the most recent months, the headline data has been stable. The employment rate in the North East region, which includes the North East and Tees Valley LEP areas, remains the lowest in England at 71.3 per cent, 0.1 percentage points higher than in the last quarter but 0.4 percentage points down on a year ago.

“The region has the second highest unemployment rate (6.2 per cent of the economically active) and the highest proportion of working age people who are economically inactive (23.8 per cent). Almost 30,000 workers in the region have been made redundant during the past year.

“However, some of the recent impact of COVID-19 has been masked by an increase in the use of furlough in the region. Over 114,000 North East employments were furloughed at the end of January, more than double the total of three months earlier. Most furloughed workers continue to be classified as employed in the official statistics.

“The impact on different groups in our population has been different. Younger people have experienced particular challenges both in employment and training and there have also been different patterns in the impact for men and women in the past year. The number of unemployed women has increased by 14 per cent, while male unemployment is lower (by about 8 per cent). Almost 52 per cent of furloughed workers in the North East at the end of January were female.

“The progress we are seeing towards the lifting of lockdown restrictions offers hope for the thousands of businesses unable to trade. Support for these businesses remaining under restrictions needs to continue.

“The North East LEP will continue to work with government as we look to drive forward our economy and address some of the key challenges which COVID-19 has created in our region.”

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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).

“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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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 show a national surge in unemployment as employers prepared for the end of the furlough scheme. The North East region now has the highest rate of unemployment in the country which is extremely concerning – especially as this month’s data does not yet take account the impact of the current tighter restrictions.

“The unemployment figure for the North East region, including the North East LEP and the Tees Valley LEP areas, was at 6.7 per cent at the end of September, compared to 4.8 per cent nationally. The North East LEP area has seen the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits increase by over 60 per cent since March. A big concern is the large rise in younger people aged 16-24 not in employment across the UK.

“Our businesses continue to work hard to keep their teams together, but we are faced with a stop-start recovery, where ongoing support will be critical for business and for jobs. We welcome government’s recent decision extend the support available to the economy and will be monitoring its impact closely as we move into the winter.

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