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Changing the narrative around prospects for young people

With the economic impact of COVID-19 hitting the headlines, a new project is underway to mitigate the effect on young people’s career aspirations and mental health. Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, tells us more.

With constant access to news and social media, it would be easy to think that the future looks bleak for young people who are beginning to think about applying for jobs, apprenticeships or further education.

At the click of a button, we can see endless reports and conversation about the impact of COVID-19 on the jobs market and the economy.

We know that many students spend upwards of six hours a day on social media* and one danger of this constant news cycle is that it could have a negative impact on young people’s ambitions and mental health.

While it’s true that we are facing huge challenges, and that many young people’s expectations have been turned on their heads, there is still good news out there and there are still opportunities for young people as they move on from school, college or university and look to the next stage of their lives.

As part of our region-wide response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are beginning a new programme of work, looking at changing the narrative around the prospects for young people today.

While we in no way want to ignore the challenges, we do want to make sure that no one’s aspirations are lowered and that no one is discouraged from pursuing their dream job, apprenticeship, or college or university place. We want to make sure that young people in the North East hear about the support available, and to make sure that their questions, worries and opinions are being heard.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be finding out more about what young people are saying and working with employers to help young people understand the real picture around careers opportunities in our region.

What we already know is that there is optimism amongst young people.

The recent Unifrog report investigating the effect of the pandemic on students’ wellbeing found that, while students reported that the situation has had a clear impact on their education (with one in two saying the pandemic has negatively affected their motivation to study and do well), 70% reported feeling positive or optimistic about the future.

We also know that young people have skills and attributes that employers are looking for. Many are skilled in navigating digital tech and the online world, and many are flexible and can adapt quickly to new situations. This doesn’t just stand them in good stead when it comes to job interviews, but is also a valuable skillset for those who might choose the self-employment route.

During the last recession we saw the emergence of a wave of new businesses, many started by young founders. Promoting entrepreneurialism and letting young people know that self-employment is a viable route open to them is at the forefront of our work with schools and colleges, as we aim to make sure that all pupils in our region have access to top quality careers guidance. Again, we know there are challenges – young business leaders often find it difficult to access finance, for example – but there are start-up loans and financial support out there, and we can help young people to access it.

For those young people who are returning to school or college in September, we want to make sure that careers guidance is a priority and that it helps young people to explore the full range of pathways open to them including self-employment and non-traditional careers.

Working together with schools, colleges and employers, we aim to help young people understand that their skills are valuable, help them to choose the pathway that’s right for them, and help all young people to achieve their ambitions.

Find out more about the North East LEP’s works with schools, colleges and employers at www.northeastambition.co.uk.

*Findings from the Unifrog COVID-19 impact report, investigating the effect of the pandemic on students’ wellbeing and next steps.

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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.


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North East to help shape adult retraining scheme

Adults across the North East will be personally invited to try out a pioneering new digital service that will help more people to get on a path to a new, more rewarding career, Education Minister Kemi Badenoch has announced today (20 August).

The Get Help to Retrain digital service is the first of a series of products that will make up the Government’s landmark National Retraining Scheme, which is being developed to support adults whose jobs may change or evolve due to new technologies – such as automation and AI – to gain the skills and confidence to land a new job.

Research has revealed that up to 35% of jobs could be at risk of changing as a result of automation in the next 10-20 years with computer programmes or even robots transforming the way things are done in the workplace.

Get Help to Retrain is designed to help adults to identify their existing skills, explore types of jobs and find training courses to gain the skills they need to progress. Dedicated support is also on hand from qualified careers advisers to guide people through the process and provide expert information and advice.

People in the North East are playing a key role in supporting the early testing of the scheme as it is rolled out across England. Following a successful testing phase in the Liverpool City Region in July, where the new service was trialled, it is now available for more adults to test across the North East and the West Midlands, as well as continuing in Liverpool.

Education Minister Kemi Badenoch said: “We are developing the National Retraining Scheme to support adults across the country whose jobs could be at risk of changing or evolving as a result of new technologies to learn new skills, build their confidence and get them on the path to a new career.

“The Get Help to Retrain digital service is just the start of what will become the full National Retraining Scheme, so it’s fantastic that the North East Local Enterprise Partnership has agreed to support us in making sure it’s a success.

“We are starting off small and rolling it out in stages so we can test, refine and develop the service as we go and make sure we get it right for the people who need it.”

As the next phase of the roll out ramps up, adults will benefit from new and improved features including being able to explore a wider range of training options online and being matched to types of jobs that they may not have considered they could do with their existing skills.

Get Help to Retrain has started as a private service so it can be fully tested and developed further before being made available publicly across England in 2020.

In the North East, eligible adults – those aged 24 and over, living in the local area with a qualification below degree level and working below a certain wage threshold – will be invited to trial the new service to make sure it works for the people that need it.

The National Retraining Scheme – backed by £100 million of Government investment – is a manifesto commitment and is a key part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy for building a country fit for the future. A series of additional products that will make up the full service are being developed and tested in parallel, before being released at different times.

The scheme is led and overseen by the National Retraining Partnership – a unique partnership between Government, the CBI and the TUC – to ensure the collective voices of businesses and employees are heard.

The National Careers Service in the North East , Liverpool City Region and West Midlands the supporting the testing of the scheme by providing qualified careers advisers to give expert information, advice and guidance to users of Get Help to Retrain.

Sarah Glendinning, CBI North East Director, said: “As our regional employment landscape changes and evolves, we need to support our local workforce to adapt. It’s therefore welcome news that the North East has been chosen as one of the first regions to be involved in the Get Help to Retrain scheme.

“It’s encouraging to see National Retraining Scheme testing rolled out in the North East.  Ensuring the UK’s workforce is fit for the future is essential to improving productivity growth. It’s the only sustainable route to higher wages and living standards.

“The world of work is changing, fast. The only way to help people adapt and learn throughout their careers is by employers and Government working together. The National Retraining Partnership should kick start a wider cross-government effort aimed at embracing the fourth industrial revolution.”

TUC Northern Secretary Beth Farhat said: “Every worker should have the opportunity to improve their skills and retrain. This is especially important as technology and automation are set to transform many industries in the North East in the coming years.

“The launch of the first phase of the National Retraining Scheme is great news. It’s the beginning of collaborative approach between government, unions and business to provide retraining to many more working people, so they are prepared for the jobs of the future. Union learning reps will play a central role helping workers access opportunities through the scheme.

“These trials are just the beginning. We look forward to helping the National Retraining Partnership develop a full programme to invest in the potential of all workers in the North East, so that our region has the skills we need for the future.”

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director, North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “As our regional employment landscape changes and evolves, we need to support our local workforce to adapt. It’s therefore welcome news that the North East has been chosen as one of the first regions to be involved in the Get Help to Retrain scheme.

“This programme will help adults in our area whose jobs could be at risk, to explore their options, develop skills and access new work opportunities. The scheme will also help to support better productivity in our region, by matching skills more closely with employers’ needs.

“Although this scheme will target a relatively small number of adults initially, we would gladly support its extension to a wider workforce in the future if it proves to be successful.”

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Sharing North East skills practice internationally

Visitors from across the UK and as far afield as Hong Kong have been in the North East to learn how the region is leading the way improving careers education for young people.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, explains how developing closer links between schools and employers is having a positive impact on outcomes for pupils.

This month the North East LEP skills team has hosted visitors from the UK and Hong Kong, with the aim of sharing what we’ve learnt about embedding engagement with employers into the classroom and improving careers guidance for young people.

A delegation of representatives from Hong Kong’s education sector joined education specialists from Rhondda Cynon Taf Education, Employment and Training team in Wales on a two-day visit to the North East. The aim of the visit was to share what we’ve learnt about working with schools, colleges and local employers to deliver outstanding careers education to each and every young person in our region.

We also hosted a visit from colleagues from across the country as part of our role as Cornerstone Hub partnering with the Careers & Enterprise Company. Our hubs not only support North East schools and colleges to achieve the benchmarks but we also have a role to play nationally, learning from and supporting Careers Hubs in other regions in implementing the benchmarks in their own regions.

The North East is leading the way in careers education and employer engagement. In 2015 we were the first region to pilot the Gatsby Career Benchmarks in schools and as a result we demonstrated the huge impact these benchmarks can have in schools and on outcomes for young people, really helping pupils to understand how what they learn in the classroom applies to their future careers.

The benchmarks have now become part of Government’s national careers strategy, meaning that schools and colleges elsewhere in the country are keen to learn from the North East LEP about how we have engaged schools and colleges with the benchmarks and how we continue to support their delivery.

We have also established a successful Enterprise Adviser programme, partnering North East schools with business leaders who volunteer their expertise to help shape careers education and strengthen the relationship between our education and business sectors.

Our visitors from Hong Kong and Wales visited Studio West school in Newcastle and Harton Academy in South Shields to meet staff and students and hear first-hand about the difference this employer engagement and the Gatsby Career Benchmarks have made to them. 

I’m extremely proud the North East is recognised nationally and internationally as an example of best practice in delivering careers guidance. It’s testament to the impact the Gatsby Career Benchmarks have that so many countries across the world want to match our success.

This success is down to the hard work by our schools and colleges but also the time and expertise that has been given by North East businesses, who have been instrumental in helping us to drive forward our skills, employability and inclusion programmes which are vital to improving life for people in the North East.

Find out more about the North East LEP’s work with schools, colleges and employers in the region.

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A refreshed plan for delivering more and better jobs in the North East

In February the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) published the updated Strategic Economic Plan for the North East. The Plan, which lays out the roadmap for creating 100,000 more and better jobs for the region by 2024, has been updated to reflect progress made since its initial launch in 2014, and to take account of changes in the economic landscape.

North East LEP Skills Director, Michelle Rainbow, talks through some of the changes you can expect to see when it comes to supporting skills, employment, inclusion and progression in the North East.

We have revisited the Strategic Economic Plan for a number of reasons. Changes to the economy both nationally and globally and of course the changes which lie ahead of us, including Brexit and the opportunities that could be available to us through the Industrial Strategy and global opportunities, mean that we chose to lay out how we will continue to work towards achieving our ambition of creating more and better jobs.

The updated Plan makes clear links to the development of the North East Local Industrial Strategy, which identifies how we will make the most of our particular strengths to maximise productivity and improve standards of living for people here in the North East, and how the region will make an important contribution to the overall UK Industrial Strategy.

In the updated Plan, the skills programme and the employability and inclusion programme have been brought together into a combined skills, employment, inclusion and progression programme. The work we do in this area is all about progression and improving social mobility in the North East. It’s about supporting people as they make transitions throughout their lives and careers, whether that is school pupils learning about the world of work and further education, people preparing to return to the workforce later in life, or graduates who are choosing where to live, work and stay after university. It’s all intrinsically linked and the updated Plan reflects this.

Our focus is on all age groups and circumstances and our programme of work will help us achieve our long term ambition for the North East: that demand for skills and the quality of jobs continue to improve, leading to higher productivity. We want individuals, regardless of age or employment status, to have a good understanding of employment opportunities available and how to access them, we want to continue to strengthen links between employers and education, and we want everyone to understand the importance of skills in raising productivity and living standards.

You will see a cross-cutting theme of digitalisation throughout the Plan. If the North East is to continue to compete on a national and international stage then it’s vital that digitalisation and digital skills are embedded across our businesses and communities. As we move into Industry 4.0, our workforce and our young people must have access to the digital skills and related opportunities this fourth industrial revolution will bring.

Alongside our board we have advisory boards made up of representatives from the public and private sectors, the voluntary sector, trade unions and business representative organisations including the CBI and Chamber of Commerce. Our advisory boards have valuable experience in each of our focus areas of industry – energy, digital, health and life sciences, and advanced manufacturing – and in innovation, business growth, and employability and skills.

The guidance of our board members and our advisory panels becomes ever more important as we continue to deliver the SEP and the Local Industrial Strategy, and we will make use of their expertise and our close working relationships with partners across the North East to deliver on our ambition of creating more and better jobs.

Read the North East Strategic Economic Plan.


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Expanding the reach of the North East Skills Strategy

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is expanding its Skills team to increase the reach of its work with schools, colleges and education providers across the North East. Michelle Rainbow, the North East LEP’s Skills Director, explains what’s in store.

2018 was an incredibly busy year for our Skills team here at the North East LEP. We spent the year working on both a regional and a national basis, building the foundations of our Skills strategy and working towards the interim aims laid out in the region’s Strategic Economic Plan (SEP).

One of these aims was to put in place our Fuller Working Lives programme, working with employers to boost their numbers of older workers and to make sure that those in our workforce who are older are supported, whether they want to pursue a new direction or continue in their career.

We aimed to roll out the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks, which form a clearly defined framework for good careers guidance, to every secondary school in the North East and we wanted to partner every secondary school with an Enterprise Adviser – a business leader who volunteers their expertise to support schools and colleges in shaping the delivery of careers education.

Another major aim was to begin the ground-breaking Education Challenge programme, including working with three North East schools to pilot a new, project-based model of learning which places employer engagement at the heart of the curriculum.

In the area of technical education, we aimed to work with providers to develop world class technical education and apprenticeships to match the requirements of our growing and emerging sectors.

I’m proud to say that we achieved all of these aims and more. And to help us work with even more schools, colleges and education providers in 2019, we have recently welcomed seven new people to the North East LEP Skills team. It’s my hope that by mid-2019 we will have recruited another 10 members of the team to help deliver our ambitious plans for this year.

It’s a period of rapid expansion, which will enable us to have a wide scale regional impact. By the end of 2019 we will be working with every secondary school in the North East and we will be increasing the scope of our work with primary schools, helping to raise children’s aspirations from a young age.

We’re building on our engagement with the Further Education, Higher Education and Technical Education sectors as well, supporting organisations in responding to changes in policy and working closely with partners like the CBI and North East Chamber of Commerce.

Over the past three years we’ve put foundations in place that form the basis of a robust Skills strategy for the North East. We’ve carried out pilot projects and learnt from all the work that has been carried out so far.

Now we’re building on what we’ve learnt and we are actively pursuing opportunities to expand our reach across all our programmes so that we can support even more schools, colleges, employers and educational organisations.

Our long term vision for the North East is that it is a place where individuals, regardless of age or employment status, have a good understanding of the employment opportunities available in the North East and the pathways to access them. We want employers to have strong links with education and training providers and we aim to continue working with partners to highlight the importance of skills in improving productivity and living standards for everyone in the North East.

Find out more about the North East LEP Skills strategy. 

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How can we encourage more graduates to live, work and stay in the North East?

North East employers and graduates are taking part in a campaign which aims to raise awareness of the range of career opportunities we have for graduates here in the North East.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East LEP, explains more about the Live, Work and Stay campaign.

Graduates are essential to our businesses and the health of our regional economy. They’re our future business leaders, engineers and developers and they are the people who will build new enterprises and grow our existing businesses, years into the future. And with our North East universities producing graduates qualified in subjects ranging from Mechanical Engineering to Mandarin, what can we do to encourage as many of them as possible to use their skills in the region after graduation?

We’ve been speaking to both graduates and employers as part of our Live, Work and Stay campaign, asking them what makes the North East a great place for graduates and what businesses should be doing to encourage more young people to build their careers here.

For the graduates we spoke to, who worked in roles ranging from Engineer to Events Coordinator, a good quality of life and a lower cost of living combined with opportunities to develop their careers ranked highly in their reasons for choosing to live, work and stay in the North East. The North East’s friendly communities and stunning landscapes were also mentioned frequently, with graduates who are originally from other countries or areas of the UK saying they feel welcome and a part of the community here.

Opportunities a huge range of sectors, including our growing digital, energy and manufacturing sectors, play an important part, with graduates saying that they are attracted to organisations which provide them with the chance to develop new skills and work in varied, exciting roles which put them at the forefront of their industry.

Businesses who employ graduates recognise them as critical to their futures, bringing fresh ideas, valuable skills and new perspectives. When it comes to retaining graduate talent within the region, business leaders recognised the importance of ongoing development opportunities, flexible work practices and strengthening links with schools, colleges and universities to help young people understand the range of career paths we have here in the North East.

Internship programmes give students a taste of working life within different companies, while businesses across a range of sectors recognise the value in partnership working, coming together to create a strong identity and highlight clear career paths which graduates can follow.

Currently, just over 55% of graduates who study in the North East remain here to work, according to a report by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (Hecsu). This compares with 92% in Northern Ireland, the UK region which boasts the highest levels of graduate retention, and 39% in the East Midlands, the area with the lowest levels.

We know we can increase this percentage and, although there is still work to be done, it’s encouraging to hear from both graduates and employers who have a passion and belief in the North East as a great place to live, work and stay.

Visit www.nelep.co.uk/live-work-and-stay and follow the #LiveWorkandStay hashtag to see what employers including Sunderland Software City, Bede Gaming and ORE Catapult have to say about graduate retention, and hear from graduates working in roles ranging from Managing Consultant at Nigel Wright through to Project Engineer at Fabricom Offshore Services and find out what made them decide to live, work and stay in the North East.

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Careers guidance in primary schools – can we raise our children’s aspirations?

Following a successful pilot programme to improve standards of careers education in all North East secondary schools, the North East LEP is expanding its work to focus on primary pupils, helping to broaden their horizons and raise their aspirations.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East LEP, explains more.

We know that even at the young age of three or four, children are already starting to form their first aspirations. By six they are starting to have opinions on what they think they can or can’t do in the future. And by the time they’re 10, young people start to make decisions which could go on to limit their future options.

This is why we are embarking on a programme of work in partnership with North East primary schools to strengthen careers guidance for pupils and help open their eyes to the range of possibilities their futures hold.

Back in 2015, the North East became the first UK region to pilot the implementation of the Gatsby Good Career Benchmarks in our secondary schools. We began by working with 16 schools and colleges before rolling out the programme to the entire region, and now we are expanding this work to encompass our primary schools as well.

The work we will be doing in partnership with schools across the North East will help us to make sure that all children, from primary age upwards, have the best possible guidance to help them understand the exciting opportunities that are open to them as they grow up.

It’s not about children choosing their future jobs at this very young age. It’s about helping our children and young people to have ambitions and aspirations for themselves, helping them to learn about the variety of jobs open to them and the fantastic range of opportunities we have in the region, and to gain a broad understanding of the routes to get into work including apprenticeships and further and higher education

From early 2019 we will be working with around 70 primary schools to pilot the use of the Career Guidance Benchmarks in a primary setting.   The benchmarks have proven to have a transformational impact on careers guidance for slightly older students, forming a framework which enables schools to strengthen links with local businesses and provide top quality careers guidance for each and every pupil. Following our secondary schools pilot and the subsequent wider roll-out, the Government adopted the benchmarks as part of the national Careers Strategy and the North East is now playing a key role in supporting schools across the country to adopt the benchmarks.

For the primary pilot, we will be partnering with schools in different locations, of different sizes and with varying OFSTED ratings so we can really test how best to apply the framework to primaries.

We know that many primary schools are already doing great work in the area of careers guidance and one of the aims of this programme will be to build a community of best practice and facilitate the sharing of challenges and solutions.

Similarly, we will build on the work of the many employers currently supporting teachers and leadership teams in primary schools to bring careers to life for pupils.

We’ve had a fantastic response from schools wanting to be involved in the pilot and there is still time for more schools to get involved. We’d love to hear from any who are interested in working with us to raise the aspirations of the next generation.

The North East Primary Benchmark pilot is part of the North East LEP’s North East Ambition – a programme which aims to improve career guidance and advice from primary school upwards in the North East.

If you have any further questions about this article, please do not hesitate to contact us directly.