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A show of resilience: apprenticeships shift to an online world

This National Apprenticeship Week, North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Skills Director, Michelle Rainbow, celebrates the resilience of the people who have continued to deliver apprenticeships throughout 2020.  

As it’s National Apprenticeship Week, I wanted to take a moment to really thank all the apprentices, business and training providers who have worked so hard to overcome the challenges brought by the past year.

Of course, the pandemic meant that everyone has faced significant changes to the way we work and learn. While it’s been unavoidable that some businesses have had to pause their recruitment of apprentices, or place existing apprentices on furlough, I’ve been incredibly impressed with the efforts people have taken to adapt to an online world.

Training providers shifted to virtual delivery with impressive speed, meaning apprentices could continue to learn. And businesses have changed the way they operate to enable apprentices to continue with on-site learning where possible – take a look at some examples from maritime crane manufacturer Liebherr-Sunderland, and Newcastle’s NEL Fund Managers.

Of course, many businesses have needed extra support during 2020 and we’ve seen an uplift in businesses applying for funding and support which is available from government to help employers deliver apprenticeships. It’s part of our job as the North East LEP to make sure that businesses know about the support available to them and I was really happy to see nearly 200 people at our online North East Ambition event this week, which included a presentation from the Skills Funding Agency on the range of support available for businesses which want to take on an apprentice.

We also work closely with schools and colleges to help make sure that young people are aware of the full range of routes they can take when they leave school – including A levels, T levels, university and apprenticeships.

Of course, not all apprentices are school-leavers, and the relatively new degree-level apprenticeship has proven to be a popular way for existing staff to upskill or reskill. We’re seeing a good take-up of these apprenticeships here in the North East, with people choosing to combine degree-level learning with workplace experience, and I hope this will continue to grow as we move through 2021.

As businesses across our region plan their recovery from the impact of COVID-19, I’d love to see more businesses thinking about what their future skills needs are, and whether these might have changed in the last year. Apprentices bring so much to a business including a fresh perspective and the latest skills, so if you know that your business needs to build on its digital capabilities, for example, apprenticeships could be one way of bringing these skills in, or upskilling your existing team.

It’s a testament to the dedication and resilience of our region’s apprentices, businesses and learning providers that we’re still seeing apprentices complete their training during the pandemic. As we begin a new year, I hope we can build on this achievement and offer more young people the opportunity to learn at the same time as gaining hands-on experience in the workplace. And ultimately, by building our apprenticeship offer, we will build a skilled workforce for the future, and help to bring more and better jobs to our region.

For more information on apprenticeships, visit the North East Growth Hub’s Apprenticeship Toolkit.

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Navigating the journey from school to work: finding the way in a changing world

Flexible working, digitalisation and short term contracts – as the world of work changes, how can schools and employers make sure young people are equipped to navigate the full range of options open to them? Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) takes a look at some of the challenges and opportunities.

“In a world where job opportunities and patterns of working are changing fast, the need for increased access to different forms of career learning and careers guidance is critical.” – Youth Employment UK.

As the independent social enterprise Youth Employment UK said in its annual Youth Voice census report, which gauges how young people of all backgrounds feel about education, training, experience, work and prospects in the UK today, the world of work is changing.

Young people who leave education have a much broader range of options that we may have done when we entered the workplace. The skills and attributes needed in today’s workplace have changed and are as equally important as qualifications, as roles evolve to reflect the opportunities due to AI and digitalisation. And young people have a host of new ways of communicating with potential employers, and of gaining experience of work – especially in light of COVID-19, as we see more employers making use of virtual tours and online content matched to curriculum.

Apprenticeships, self-employment, traineeships, or further study at college or university are just some of the options open to students who are moving on from school. Working patterns are changing as well, with a rise in flexible working, short term roles and portfolio careers, and it’s vital that we help young people to understand and navigate these changes and to be able to view them as positive.

All of this means that schools and employers face new challenges when it comes to helping young people understand the range of options open to them, and giving them the confidence to articulate their goals and hopes for the future.

So how can we work together as a region to give our future workforce the best possible start in their careers?

Here in the North East, the skills team at the North East LEP works in partnership with employers and training providers, and with more than 200 schools, from Northumberland to County Durham.

We partner with business leaders who form our network of Enterprise Advisers – people who volunteer their time and knowledge to work with leadership teams in local schools to bring work and education closer together. And we run regular Careers Leaders meetings where we share the latest information on the labour market and trends in the way we work in our region.

We know that many schools in our region are already doing fantastic work when it comes to careers guidance, but we’re also very aware of the pressure schools are under right now as they deliver online learning at the same time as welcoming vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers into school.

That’s why the support we get from employers is vital and we are very grateful for it.

As the pandemic put limits on in-person work experience, we saw a rise in virtual tours and video footage, which can be a great way of bringing the workplace into the classroom and giving pupils a real life insight into different roles within your business. And of course there are benefits to your business as well, as you build better links with your future workforce and raise awareness of exciting opportunities in your sector.

From large corporations to SMEs and micro-businesses, employers of all sizes and in all sectors can play a role in helping young people navigate their options.

If you want to get involved  you can find out more about the North East LEP’s work with schools and employers here

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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.