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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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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.

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Research into the North East Offshore Wind Supply Chain reveals jobs opportunity

In conversation with Andrew Clark, Energy Lead at the North East LEP

A study commissioned by the North East LEP, and delivered by Cambridge Econometrics and Element Energy, has reinforced a major employment opportunity in the offshore wind sector.  Andrew Clark, Energy Lead at the North East LEP talks about how the findings highlight an opportunity for the North East to take a lead role in delivering national clean growth ambitions and to create more and better jobs for our region.:

What was the aim of the study?

We already know that the North East is a major global hub for the offshore energy and subsea sectors, with world leading supply chain expertise for example in subsea engineering, design, and fabrication of components such as turbine foundations, pipelines and umbilicals. We also have world-class skills and innovation capabilities, and excellent infrastructure.

We wanted to delve deeper into that area, to understand the scale of the role the region can play in delivery of the Offshore Wind Sector Deal, which was launched last year. The aim was also to set out a series of recommendations which will help inform how we further develop our regional cluster to best capitalise on the opportunities identified.

How was the study approached?

Engagement was at the core of this study, with contributions from key regional, national and international stakeholders in the sector and in the UK offshore wind project pipeline. With expert input the study assessed the existing strengths and capabilities of the North East sector, in the context of the existing UK and exports markets.

It then set out the national opportunity articulated as part of the sector deal, specifically in terms of employment and GVA growth based on the current and planned UK project pipeline. This was set out across all the major stages of wind farm development.

Using this information, we determined how much of this national job creation and GVA growth could be secured in the North East in the coming years, building on our existing capabilities. We explored several scenarios for growth in which different assumptions were tested in terms of the region’s future contribution in the UK domestic market, and international export markets.

What does the study tell us?

The study confirmed we should be hugely ambitious in this sector as a region, with a significant economic opportunity for the North East to create more and better jobs and build on its current position as a major global hub for offshore wind.

The study highlights that the total number of jobs created in and supported by the supply chain for offshore wind could reach 8,600 in the North East by 2025. This includes playing a significant national role in terms of the total numbers of jobs within direct sector supply chains, with growth being supported through the national offshore wind sector deal.

Even in a business as usual case, where the region does not increase any further market share, the direct supply chain could reach 3,500 jobs by 2025 representing up to £140m in GVA a growth of 150%.

However, with further strategic development, such as securing a greater share of the operations and maintenance market and specifically developing a wind turbine component supply chain locally, the number of jobs existing in the direct supply chain of the sector could reach 4,600 jobs and generate up to £180m in GVA.

Furthermore, an additional 3,000 – 4,000 jobs could be supported by the offshore wind sector through indirect supply chains and other economic impacts within the region.

Plus, an additional 2,000 – 3,000 jobs could be supported in the rest of the UK as a result of increased activity in the North East’s offshore wind sector

This clearly represents a huge opportunity for the region, demonstrating the central role the North East is already playing in delivering national growth in the sector, and how we can build on this even further.

What’s next?

To help us understand how to drive this level of ambition, the study also presented several strategic recommendations, including around skills and innovation programmes to future proof the sector, coordinating activity across partners, targeting an export offer to key markets, and supporting development of our infrastructure and supply chain.

The North East LEP will continue to work with Energi Coast, the North East’s offshore wind cluster, to work through the findings to help shape cluster development work with sector partners across the North East and Tees Valley.

Read an executive summary of the study. 

For more information on the findings of the study, please contact [email protected].


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Making adult education in the North East fit for the future

As well as delivering benefits to mental health and wellbeing, adult education helps to equip people with the skills they need in the workplace. As new technologies bring changes to job roles, North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Skills Director, Michelle Rainbow, takes a look at how adult education provision in our region can keep pace with the new skills that employers are looking for.

Having a skilled workforce is vital if the North East is to have a bright economic future. And it’s not just about the skills that employers are looking for now. It’s also vital that we’re equipping people with skills that will stand them in good stead as our economy changes – we know that the skills employers looked for in the past are not what they’ll be looking for in five or 10 years’ time, and our adult education provision needs to keep pace with these changes.

Across all sectors of industry we’re seeing jobs change as a result of digitalisation, automation and AI. From a business perspective, adopting new technologies is imperative, but for employees, it can be seen as a risk: do you have the skills employers will be looking for over the next few years? Will your job role change? Are your digital skills up to date?

These questions are relevant to people working in all areas of our economy. For example, in retail, we are likely to see a decrease in the number of people employed on the shop floor in physical retail outlets. However, online roles will increase. Some of the skills needed in these online roles will be the same – customer service and sales, for example – but employees will also need to be up to speed in terms of their digital skills.

Adult education can help people to future-proof their skillsets. It can help people move into new roles, help them to progress within their workplace, and it can also help make sure that they can still be in that role in five or 10 years’ time.

Employer needs are constantly evolving so it’s important that training providers really understand the direction of travel. We need to listen to employers and be responsive, making sure that employers and training providers are working together to shape adult education.

As well as future-proofing the workforce, skills development can drive up productivity – employees with new skills bring knowledge back into businesses, share what they know with other staff, and help businesses to stay competitive.

There are clear benefits for the individual and their quality of life as well. Lifelong learning broadens horizons, it gives people opportunities to progress and it keeps us mentally alert and active.

From a personal perspective I’ve found that lifelong learning – not only through formal learning but also through continuing CPD, attending conferences, subscribing to literature and staying up to date with changes in the sector – keeps me motivated and makes me more confident about my role.

As we continue to create more and better jobs in the North East, the North East LEP will help to shape adult education provision, providing insight into future skills demand and helping training providers to understand what it is that both employers and employees are looking for.

Learning doesn’t stop when we leave formal education. Lifelong learning is about acquiring new knowledge and skills throughout life and we must make sure that this is accessible to everyone.

Find out about the role skills play in the North East Strategic Economic Plan.