Home / Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home / Skills

North East Ambition expanded to future-proof workforces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home / Skills

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.

Home / Skills

Ground-breaking Careers Pilot Hailed a Success

An independent evaluation of the Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance Pilot has been releasedThe North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) played a central role in the Pilot and Skills Director Michelle Rainbow reflects on this and how even after the Pilot was completed, the Benchmarks have remained at the heart of the North East Ambition programme.  

I was so proud when I read the evaluation – to hear the Pilot described as transformational and to know that the North East played such a pivotal role has been a real honour.   

We’ve always believed that the right careers education can have lifelong rewards for young people and to see that recognised independently today is fantastic.  

We started with 12 schools, three colleges and one pupil referral unit taking part in the Pilot, which ran across two academic years (2015/2016 and 2016/2017). 

The Pilot was designed to support those schools and colleges to implement the eight Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance, evaluate how they were implemented, and identify what impacts might result from this. Today’s report notes the “observable and positive impact on learners, especially those who are most disadvantaged” – demonstrating the value that the Benchmarks can bring.  

The North East Strategic Economic Plan is our blueprint for growth in the North East. We know that skills and people are central to successful economies and through our work with the Pilot we’ve defined a programme with careers at its coreOur approach was bolstered by government integrating the Benchmarks into the national careers strategy, which requires every secondary school to adopt the Benchmarks and North East Ambition is here to support them to do that.  

North East Ambition’s key principle is “each and every”, making sure that every single student has the opportunity to access good careers guidance and recognise what their pathway could be. Why? Because we too believe it can be transformational.  

We have secured £3.1m European and match funding to support our North East Ambition programme that sees us working with 170 secondary schools and all nine of our FE colleges and two 6th form centres. This is a clear demonstration of our commitment to our pledge to work with each and every pupil in our region so that no one is left behind.  

We have also launched a new Pilot to adapt and translate the Benchmarks for primary aged pupils. There’s increasing evidence to show that children begin to form ideas about their futures when they’re as young as five or six. And by the age of 10, many young people have already made career limiting decisions, which are fixed by the time they’re 14. Imagine how we could change that trajectory if we could embed Benchmarks that related to primary aged pupils. We are one year in and our results are extremely encouraging.  

We haven’t let the impact of COVID-19 slow us down either. The trusted relationships we have built with the schools and colleges through over the past five years gave us the established network and routes into schools and colleges that we needed to continue to support young learners at the most challenging time. 

One of the things we have been incredibly keen to keep going is helping young people experience the world of work even during COVID-19 where they can’t physically get into workplaces. This is why, in response to requests from Careers Leaders, we have developed a Work Experience Framework, which will be launched next week. As an online resource, the site will support students and employers to facilitate virtual work experience  

The Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance Pilot was an incredible success and we are grateful that our partnership with the Gatsby Foundation enabled us to play such a critical role in it. But the work is not over – this is just the start as we continue to lead the way in showing our young people there is a world of opportunity available to them and anything is possible. 

Home / Skills

£40,000 boost for North East retirement saving trials

The Department for Work and Pensions has today announced a £40,000 funding boost in the North East to help people take stock of their health, skills and wealth as part of later life planning.

With the pandemic impacting people’s lives in different ways, many will already be reviewing their current situation – including those wanting a fuller working life, those able to put more into their savings after a period of working from home, or those looking to improve their resilience for the future.

At a time where many are worried about job security, the “mid-life MOTs” will enable people to identify the skills they will need for the job journey they want, helping them make more informed choices and build their future financial resilience. This initiative will help workers to plan for the future they want.

Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion Guy Opperman said: “It’s no secret I am a huge fan of this idea and I’m excited to see the results of the North East LEP’s trials.

“While we started work on this before the pandemic, the last twelve months have bought people’s financial resilience into sharp focus – making a mid-life MOT a timely exercise for many.

“And it’s not just about retirement savings but also about enabling people to enjoy a fuller working life by helping them understand the skills they will need to learn along the way.”

The North East LEP is partnering with Good Things Foundation, the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity, to explore how to embed digital inclusion into promotion and take-up of a Mid-Life MOT in communities and with local employers.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East LEP said: “In a region where employment rates have had the largest impact on 50-64 year olds, and Ofcom data shows that only 18 percent of people use the internet fully, the North East pilot will help people to overcome digital exclusion to access the online toolkit to assess their skills, health and finance and better plan for their futures.”

The trials will help the DWP understand:

  • The actions individuals take as a result of undertaking the mid-life MOT;
  • The user needs among those most at risk of experiencing long term unemployment;
  • The effectiveness of using local delivery channels and how these can complement the Money and Pensions Service (MAPs), the National Careers Service (NCS) and Public Health England (PHE), in supporting individuals with later life planning.

The funding given to the North East LEP is just one of ten to be given to LEPs across England. Each will receive up to £40,000 to develop, and implement, the mid-life MOT trials.

Home / Skills

In conversation with Linda Conlon, Chief Executive of the International Centre for Life, about inspiring young people through careers education

The world of work today is very different to the one I first joined. It’s estimated young people can expect to change careers between five and seven times, and at least two of those will not be of their choosing. Looking back with what may be rose-tinted glasses, it seemed easier to move around and experience different jobs when I began my career.

I think if I was looking to offer some general advice to young people today it would be to keep your career options open. Don’t close them down before you have to and focus on one specific area.

It’s a positive thing to sample different work environments. I’ve worked for a multinational company, the government, a regional development agency, and for a number of years I ran my own marketing consultancy, which allowed me to work with a range of businesses and clients.

It’s not always about what you do, but the environment that you work in. If you’re happy and comfortable in your chosen environment you feel like you belong, and that gives you the best chance of a fulfilling and rewarding career.

It always strikes me as sad when some people are stuck in jobs they don’t like. You spend more time at work – in normal circumstances – with your work colleagues than you do at home. Why then would you do something you don’t enjoy?

When I was at school, I didn’t really benefit from any specific careers advice; there certainly wasn’t a sustained programme to recognise talent. Someone would come to the school for half a day and ask what you liked doing. I do remember someone saying they wanted to travel and they were advised to be a bus driver.

It was also quite common at the time to choose between arts-based or science-based subjects. Now, people don’t necessarily have to do the classic trio of subjects – maths, physics and chemistry. People can choose to study a mix of subjects that gives them a breadth of knowledge.

It’s really important to introduce people to the world of work from an early stage and that’s something we try to do in the centre’s visitor attraction, Life Science Centre. We offer an informal learning environment and we want to inspire people when they visit, ignite their curiosity and get them thinking in different ways. We encourage people to think creatively and imaginatively. Those skills are important in the world of work, particularly in science.

We have a mantra at Life Science Centre, which is ‘hands on, minds on, hearts on’. I firmly believe people learn better when they’re actively engaged in something that interests them.

It’s also important to say it’s okay to not know what you want to do in the future; people shouldn’t be worried or ashamed about that. Take your time and get it right.

We often talk about change in the workplace, and we’re currently seeing that at an unprecedented rate. That’s why I think young people should be flexible and not take themselves down a route they’re not sure of.

Parents have an important role to play in that, too. Young people often find they move unconsciously down a career path prompted by their parents.

Sadly, stereotypes still prevail in the science and technology sector, and some of that can come from parents, especially those without an interest in the area. That can discourage young people from pursuing STEM subjects, so we need to help students and their parents understand how science qualifications can stand them in good stead across many different careers.

In the gaming sector, for example, a large majority of people have qualifications in maths and physics. Unfortunately, young people don’t often make the connection between those exciting, emerging jobs and science subjects.

I’m often asked about my role within the science sector, and what skills and qualifications it takes to become a chief executive.

The first skill is to learn from your mistakes. We all make them, but it’s how you learn from the experience that’s important. I think it also benefits your staff to see someone in a senior leadership position make a mistake and own up to it. It gives them the courage to do the same.

Something that’s always been, and will continue to be important, is communication. It’s essential to be able to explain to people not just what, but why they’re doing something. When people don’t know what’s happening, they fill in the gaps themselves. Communications is something I feel I have a particular strength in, as I worked in the industry for a long time. I believe communications should be frequent, honest and simple.

Developing effective relationships is vital, too. I think a lot of people forget when you have a relationship with an organisation, it’s with the people within it.

Whilst it might sound obvious, listening skills are very important. If you think about our current situation, senior leaders need to understand how it’s impacting staff, their families and their lives. You only get that from listening.

You also need to take risks, and that’s something we’re very good at in Life. As a not-for-profit independent trust, we have a lot of autonomy and entrepreneurial spirit. We used that to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic to become an NHS large vaccination centre.

Taking risks fits with my next attribute, which is thinking outside the box. Despite being a not-for-profit, we think commercially at Life. By making a profit we can improve and expand the job we do – and do it better. That’s why it’s key to learn from other sectors and other businesses.

If I wasn’t chief executive of Life, I’d like to be either a wildly successful criminal barrister, or a wildly successful crime fiction writer. I’m always told only a small handful of people become successful criminal barristers. I’d definitely want to be one of the rich ones.

Linda Conlon is Chief Executive of the International Centre for Life, which opened in May 2000, with the purpose of inspiring everyone in North East England to explore and enjoy science and to discover its relevance to their own lives.

Linda is the first woman from Europe to be elected as Chair of the Association of Science and Technology Centres (ASTC), a body which represents more than 600 centres from over 50 countries. Linda is also a former board member of Ecsite, the European network of science centres and museums, and former Chair of its UK equivalent.

In recognition of her outstanding service to science and science education in North East England, she was awarded an MBE in January 2016.

www.life.org.uk

Home / Skills

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.

Home / Skills

Why businesses need to upskill and reskill to emerge stronger

Throughout the past year, businesses and their employees have had to continuously adjust and adapt. Some organisations have needed to pivot or drastically re-think business plans and many companies, large and small, now need to ‘do more with less’. Whether that’s as a result of a reduced workforce, a strain on finances or a more challenging operating environment, there are few who can say it’s ‘business as usual’.

Joe Hedley, Assistant Director of Sales and Business Development at Northumbria University, explains the growing need to upskill and reskill employees to ensure that businesses remain efficient, effective and competitive in a post-COVID world.

How has Covid-19 affected businesses’ skills, capacity and ability to deliver?

Since the start of the pandemic, our ability to make choices has diminished. Many businesses have been unable to recruit at a time when they arguably most need new skills to survive and adapt.

Undoubtedly, employees with a diverse skillset are more valuable right now. In many cases, those in senior positions are being called upon to do more as a result of changing demands, increased business pressures or lower-level roles having been furloughed. However, these additional responsibilities don’t always come with the necessary training and support.

Conversely, some businesses are overwhelmed with new and growing opportunities as a result of the pandemic but are similarly struggling to support employees as they try to adapt and cope.

No matter what the challenges or opportunities, COVID-19 forced most companies to change the way they work almost overnight. Consequently, employees now need new or different skills in order to deliver effectively in the long term.

What’s the difference between reskilling and upskilling?

To reskill is to retrain someone in a completely new skillset in order to deliver a different role, whereas upskilling involves learning additional skills to improve an existing skillset.

Why is it so important to upskill and reskill staff right now?

History tells us that in times of crises, successful businesses use recovery as an opportunity to learn and innovate; to re-evaluate what customers want and how to provide it; and to make critical changes to how they are organised and work. These companies reportedly outgrow their peers nearly fourfold. Driving forward in this way means businesses become purpose-built for the new future.

As a result of the digital revolution, and long before the pandemic, it was estimated that 7 out of 10 workers across all sectors needed to upskill their digital capabilities. With the arrival and subsequent challenges of COVID-19, the influence of digital technologies has been dramatically accelerated – compounding the need for new and improved digital skills in every area of the economy.

The full social and economic impacts of COVID (after all, it is not over yet!) are still very much unknown. New problems and new opportunities are yet to be presented and therefore the need for us to adapt, improve and change our skillsets – and retrain where necessary – will become part of the ‘new normal’ for businesses and individuals alike.

How can Universities help?

Drawing on research-rich education, universities like Northumbria can provide a tailored approach to equipping organisations large and small, across all sectors, with the right skills. From degree apprenticeships and continuous professional development, to new product development partnerships and bespoke collaborations, the University can help businesses understand and solve their evolving skills needs (and gaps) so that they’re able to successfully deliver new business models in a post-COVID world.

Read Northumbria University’s Partner of Choice supplement, with the University’s latest business news and information on how research can drive business growth, here.

Find out more about why improving skills in the North East workfore is fundamental to our economic future.

Home / Skills

Delivering apprenticeships during the coronavirus pandemic

Abigail Cook joined NEL Fund Managers in 2017 as a Level 2 Administration Apprentice. On completion of her Level 2, Abigail immediately progressed to Level 4, which she successfully completed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Yvonne Gale, Chief Executive Officer of NEL Fund Managers, and Abigail Cook, Investment Associate at NEL Fund Managers, discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on apprenticeships, and how organisations have adapted to ensure apprentices and employers continue to benefit from this important route to employment.

Yvonne Gale, Chief Executive Officer

What immediate impact did the coronavirus pandemic have on the delivery of Abigail’s apprenticeship?

At the time when the coronavirus pandemic began, Abigail was right at the end of her Level 4 apprenticeship. At that stage there’s a final completion assessment that includes observation in the workplace.

Obviously that couldn’t happen, so the main disruption was the timescale for moving Abigail onto her Level 7 apprenticeship. We couldn’t get the paperwork signed off on Level 4, so we couldn’t get her enrolled for Level 7.

We were also in the process of moving to a new specialist training provider who could deliver Level 7. The new provider was unable to enroll Abigail onto the new apprenticeship programme until they had official sign off the Level 4 NVQ, and that was on a backlog of around six-eight weeks.

It was just unlucky timing as that was in March/April 2020.

Did NEL Fund Managers benefit from continuing the apprenticeship during the coronavirus pandemic?

Abigail is currently in a developmental role and we know it’s really important that she keeps getting opportunities to learn so putting her apprenticeship on hold could have affected its momentum and her motivation. We were keen COVID-19 didn’t disrupt that and that we could keep it moving forward.

I actually spent a lot of time working with the new training provider, Kaplan, to make sure it could continue. During the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic everything was temporarily disrupted and for people in a developmental role it’s important they don’t feel like they’re going to be left on the sidelines. Apprenticeships could have been something that was easily left on the shelf but we didn’t want to do that; we felt it was really important to keep pushing to make sure it continued.

Why has NEL Fund Managers chosen to invest in apprenticeships?

There are multiple reasons. NEL Fund Managers does a lot of technical work and we need technical skills. Whilst the Level 4 apprenticeship has given Abigail a good grounding we spotted an opportunity for her to move from an administration role to a technical role.

Although we do a lot of learning in the workplace, I think it’s really important people have external learning as well. People in a developmental role will bring improvements to processes as they go, so if they’re only learning in the workplace, where are they going to get that knowledge? We really want people to experience that cross-pollination from training in the workplace in addition to the external perspectives offered through an apprenticeship.

Another reason is that NEL Fund Managers focuses a lot of emphasis on staff retention; over 50% of our staff has been with us for ten years or more. You can’t just assume people will stay, you have to offer them progression and the best way to do that is through training. We’ve got a very long history of that at NEL Fund Managers; everyone in the business has done a lot of training. We’re keen to support people who want to continue to learn and develop because we want to keep those members of staff and we want to keep their skills too.

The other benefit is that apprenticeships offer a structured programme and for small businesses, it’s quite difficult to deliver a three-year structured training programme. Going onto a planned apprenticeship means someone takes on the care of that structured programme for us, and makes sure it happens.

Abigail’s apprenticeship is in accounting and we have several accountants here in the business and that have all learnt through the apprenticeship route. We know it works and there’s tradition there. Because we benefitted from it, we want the next generation to benefit from it too.

Abigail Cook, Investment Associate

What changes did you have to adapt to in order to complete your Level 4 during lockdown?

Towards the end of my Level 4 there was a series of final observations that had to be done. My assessor, Olivia, couldn’t come and visit in person so we had to think of new ways to get the observations done, and that was mainly through Zoom and Microsoft Teams. We had professional discussions that were then recorded and uploaded to the portal that stores evidence of all my work.

I redid one module for my technical certificate and found I actually had more time to do research as I had fewer personal commitments because of lockdown.

Did you find it challenging to move to a home learning / working model?

It wasn’t necessarily challenging, just very different. I’m mainly office based unless I’m attending meetings, and my bedroom has turned into a home office, which is working well now. There were some challenges at the beginning with parents and younger siblings all working/studying from home, and we invested in some new WIFI.

A lot of the work we do at NEL Fund Managers, such as getting wet signatures on documents and having investment files signed off, had to be adapted to be digitised, and that took a lot of work initially. But since then it’s a case of pressing a button and sending it off via email to someone. It was challenging at first but we’ve all adapted to the new processes we’ve developed.

Doing some of the technical learning at home has been hard as normally you might want to sit with someone to go through it. When we are doing revision sharing now it’s about sharing screens on Teams. As a learner I’d prefer to do some of that in person.

The Zoom sessions we’ve been doing have been really interactive but it’s not quite the same as being sat in a classroom being able to ask your peers questions.

Yvonne Gale – We actually picked Kaplan as they were the only training provider that could offer us classroom learning in Newcastle. It’s a three-year programme so I’m hopeful we can go back to a classroom model. Abigail, and our other accounting apprentice, Mike, actually requested classroom learning when we were looking at providers so it’s a shame we’re not able to offer people their preferred method of learning at the moment.

Why did you choose to complete an apprenticeship over another route to employment?

I originally went to sixth form after doing my GCSEs to study AS levels but after my first year I questioned why I was doing them. At the time I also had a part time job and was enjoying the work ethic, as oppose to full-time study.

I saw the Level 2 apprenticeship advertised at NEL Fund Managers and even though it was a very different environment, after my interview I thought ‘yes, I’d like to work here’. Thankfully Yvonne and Suzanne took me on, which was great.

An apprenticeship allows me work and earn whilst I’m studying. Being in secure employment – as opposed to a university experience with a part time job and a lot of debt – seemed really attractive to me.

It was also encouraging to learn other people in NEL Fund Managers have been apprentices as well. That showed me there is a lot of scope for development here and NEL Fund Managers – as an employer – are very encouraging.

Yvonne Gale – Abigail has gone from working part time in hospitality to doing a postgraduate qualification in four years – and she’s skipped all the student debt.

The apprenticeship system really works for us as an employer too. The course she’s currently doing – had we been paying that ourselves – would cost £20k. For a small business that’s a huge amount of money. Because of the apprenticeship system we’ve been able to get that for 5% of the cost – so it costs us £1k for a £20k piece of training.

And Abigail is getting £20k worth of training, and she’s not having to pay for it.

What are your career aspirations moving forward?

Ideally I’d like to move into more of an investment executive role, managing my own investment opportunities and working with yet more growing local businesses. I’m definitely getting the skills I need through my apprenticeship. The amount I’ve learned is really helping me develop in my current role.

I’d like to finish the current apprenticeship in the next three years and move into a permanent investment executive role. In the long term I’d like to continue at NEL Fund Managers and see what other progression opportunities there are.

Find information and guidance for businesses on hiring an apprentice on the North East Growth Hub Apprenticeship Toolkit.