Home / Updates / In conversation with Ellen Thinnesen, Chair of the North East Skills Advisory Panel, about the LEP’s annual review and importance of creating career opportunities for all

In conversation with Ellen Thinnesen, Chair of the North East Skills Advisory Panel, about the LEP’s annual review and importance of creating career opportunities for all

We’re used to hearing about the tremendous opportunities on the horizon in the North East, in sectors such as digital, advanced manufacturing, and health and life sciences. The North East LEP is working with a wide range of educators, businesses, and policymakers to make sure people across the region can access these jobs – and that the opportunity is open to everyone.

We talked to Ellen Thinnesen, Chair of the North East Skills Advisory Panel and Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East (comprising Sunderland, Northumberland and Hartlepool Sixth Form colleges) about the drive to provide good jobs for each and every person in our region.

For the last few years, learning institutions from across the region have been involved in an innovative scheme partnering education and business.

Through the Ford Next Generation Learning project, students have worked with employers on projects that tackle real industry challenges. Together they have collaborated to support our region’s young people to develop and apply skills in areas such as maths and English, and to enhance their leadership and teamwork abilities.

One young person said they’d met as many as 10 to 15 employers in the first six weeks of their academic year alone, from guest speakers to industry professionals assisting with projects. .

It’s a great example of how students, businesses, educators and the local community can work together to help people discover careers that could become their future.

We’re hoping to see plenty of opportunities emerge in the North East in the near future. The region could be a home for more and better jobs in offshore energy and subsea, advanced vehicle manufacturing, modern methods of construction, pharmaceuticals, life sciences, and digital, to name but a few.

We want each and every person in the North East to aspire to those jobs.

We want each and every child to understand the possibilities that are out there for them, regardless of background or circumstances.

And we want each and every adult to have the chance to re-train, and enjoy a fulfilling new career.

That journey starts early. Research tells us that our ideas about who we are and what we can do in our lives are shaped by the age of seven. So starting careers guidance at nine or 10 is too late. Our North East Ambition pilot worked with 70 primary schools to teach young children about careers, and we’ve already seen exciting signs of impact. It’s an opportunity to shape attitudes for the better across the North East.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced us to adapt how we worked, but it never dampened our commitment. Our Skills Advisory Panel agreed to meet weekly in the initial stages of lockdown, facilitating conversations between employers, government, the NHS and education providers. We collected monthly data and intelligence, and helped our partners support young people into the next phase of their learning or training.

We’ve seen an incredible amount of collaboration, adaptation and generosity from our community during this time. This included bringing education online, developing virtual work experience programmes, and even helping students fund laptops for home study.

However, the work is not yet done. In our Local Skills Report in March, we noted that many businesses were expecting to make redundancies or close sites this year. And the damage caused by the pandemic has heavily affected over-50s, who may find themselves unemployed despite having incredible experience and skills. We need to provide support and re-training opportunities, but also think about the whole person, and what they want and need.

Across the North East, we’ve demonstrated the amazing things we can do when we work together. But we want to think bigger. We want to tap into that powerful collective spirit even more, and give every person in this region the chance to craft better skills, better jobs, and better lives.

Ellen Thinnesen, Chair of the North East Skills Advisory Panel and Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East.