Chamber event addresses region’s employment and skills challenges through key collaborations

Author - Courtney Hiles

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A Chamber event explored education and skills and championed the need for collaboration between businesses and education providers.

Linking Business and Education saw industry leaders and educators come together to explore current opportunities and challenges, as well as future opportunities for key partnerships to address the region’s skills shortages.

Callum George, policy adviser at the Chamber, said: “It was fantastic to see connections being made between education providers and employers at the Linking Business and Education event. 

“Attendees delved into best practice for employers engaging with the education landscape, and how best to facilitate this with education providers. New developments were also explored as key opportunities.

“These conversations are crucial in ensuring we work together to close the skills gaps in the region and build a stronger, fairer North East.”

The first panel discussion was centred around the employment landscape and was hosted by Simon Merchant, director at Interdigitate.

Simon said: “We need to partner business with education, there’s an appetite to do more and we need to bridge the gap. We all need to work together in a way that is future proof, and this event is an interesting opportunity to explore all of this.”

Panel members included: Darush Dodds, group corporate affairs director at Esh Group; Andrea Taylor, head of people and experience at Fentimans; Stevie McLaren, employability partner at Newcastle Building Society; Garry Thompson, head of people at Port of Tyne; and Elaine Griffiths, skills manager at Newcastle Gateshead Initiative.

Businesses discussed opportunities and challenges in their sectors, particularly around green energy and digital advancements.

Garry said: “We’re around 100 miles away from Dogger Bank Wind Farm, which will have enough power to power six million homes. That’s a significant opportunity from a port’s perspective.

“We’re really looking at our green skills agenda and what we’re doing from an automation point of view. There’s a huge wave of change coming to the port industry.”

Darush said: “Modern methods of construction are certainly coming. Retrofit is a huge industry, 3.4 million homes need retrofitting in the North East and Yorkshire to reduce energy usage, and we need 67,000 people to upskill to do this. There are massive opportunities around this, and lots of colleges in the region are looking at courses to prepare the future workforce.

“On digital, we’re looking at virtual reality, AI, even drones which are becoming used more often now in surveying. We want this kind of work to be a formal part of the curriculum.”

Businesses agreed there is a need to change out of date perceptions of certain industries, particularly the finance, customer service and hospitality and tourism sectors, and to work with education providers to create cohesive language so young people understand the job market.

Degree apprenticeships, where the employee is studying towards an undergraduate or postgraduate degree as part of their apprenticeship, were explored as a solution to the North East’s skills shortage. Business also discussed tapping into more diverse talent pools.

Garry said: “As an employer with an ambitious strategy to be more diverse, it would make absolute sense to tap into more diverse sectors, and forming these relationships. That’s the beauty of today for me, connecting those dots.”

A second panel discussion on incorporating education into business was moderated by Nadine Hudspeth, director of brand and learner experience at Gateshead College.

Nadine said: “We worked with the Chamber to look at how recruitment needed to change and one of the things that emerged was recognition that the Chamber needed an early career board to shape policy conversations, which is why the Future Leaders’ Forum was set up. The forum connects young people and businesses.”

Panel members included: Lesley Graham, executive principal at Stockton Riverside College; Jonathan Munby, principal lecturer (international) at Teesside University; Helen Inness, employer account manager at Speakers for Schools; Paul Given, senior assistant headteacher at St. Wilfrid’s R.C. College; and Kim Smith, regional lead for technical education & enterprise at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

Panel members shared how they currently engage with employers and what advice they would give to businesses looking to work with education providers.

Paul explained St. Wilfrid’s R.C. College’s alternative career-driven pathways for Year 10 and 11 students. He said: “The Building Careers Programme inspires and equips young, talented students with the academic and practical skills needed to progress into the construction sector.

“After hearing about the success of the programme, Nissan worked with us to launch the Nissan Skills Academy – supporting in curriculum delivery, assisting in course design, and providing high quality work experience.

“Nissan works closely with us in developing attributes that they expect from future employees, strategically building these into the curriculum. All students are guaranteed an apprenticeship interview at the end of the two-year programme.”

Panel members agreed that it’s important for employers to reach out to education providers with their business requirements to ensure the education system meets their current needs as well as future requirements.

Jonathan said: “As a university, we have a lot of control over the courses we run, we write our own assessments. Talk to us, our students can become your workforce of the future. Help us shape our future direction.”

The Chamber recently produced an inclusive employment report and recruitment and retention toolkit, in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions, to help the region’s businesses attract and keep talent, and build a more inclusive workforce.

Linking Business and Education took place at Gateshead College on 27 February. The event was sponsored by the North East Business Resilience Centre.

Image caption: (l-r) Martin Wilson, head of student services, North East Business Resilience Centre; Kay Charlton, North East group senior partnership manager, Department for Work and Pensions; Callum George, policy adviser, NECC; Nadine Hudspeth, director of brand and learner experience, Gateshead College; Simon Merchant, director, Interdigitate.

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