Developing routes into employment that support the local skills economy was high on the agenda at a business event with the Northern Powerhouse Partnership Director Henri Murison at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
Organised by Downtown in Business and hosted at the University, the event discussed what local authorities, work programme providers and educational institutions are doing to break down barriers to work and to create a workforce that is responsive to the business skills’ demands of the region.
Lancashire’s economy is predicted to grow by 27% over the next 10 years, with the expected average growth of 33% for the rest of the UK. With an ageing workforce and modest population growth, Lancashire’s challenge is to achieve the employment targets set out by the Lancashire Economic Partnership (LEP) in industries such as aerospace, digital and advanced manufacturing.
Northern Powerhouse Partnership Director Henri Murison said: “Our Educating the North report highlighted the need to focus on skills not only in Lancashire, but across the Northern Powerhouse, to meet the needs of our businesses as in key capabilities like advanced manufacturing where we are below national average on levels of higher skilled people. There is a need for employers to come together with universities and all those partners who have an influence over the future course of young people’s lives, as well as ensure the next industrial revolution dose not pass by their longer standing, committed workers.
“There is a journey to get people to fulfil their full potential. Businesses need to be involved in schools, helping raise their aspirations and give people the knowledge they need to make better choices about their future. We need to see parity of esteem for work based learning and academic routes. As the Education Select Committee raised after their recent hearing with former Chancellor George Osborne, Lord Jim O’Neill and myself, there is a need to close the gap in how children do compared to London, particularly the least well off areas, which is why we are working to ensure we have as many good and outstanding schools as London does by 2022.
“The north is leading the way on degree apprenticeships – and institutions like UCLan are displaying real commitment to getting these great opportunities open to more students, as well as reaching employers of all sizes and scale. We believe their work on this will be best practice, which other universities across the country seek to follow the example of.”
Universities and colleges in Lancashire are expected to play an important role in providing the high-level skills to raise productivity and boost levels of innovation and UCLan is sector leading in its approach to this. By introducing flexible degree apprenticeships that current students can switch to, it means that in less than two years the first wave of graduates will be equipped with both the theoretical and practical knowledge needed to hit the ground running and start making a positive contribution to the local economy.
UCLan Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Dr Lynne Livesey commented: “In the North West, SMEs are the life blood of the economy and we offer them the opportunity to tap into the degree apprenticeship market to help plug the skills gap. Businesses have told us they need to have faster access to apprentices and employable, work ready graduates and UCLan’s response aims to position the University as one of the largest providers of degree apprenticeships in the region.
“We have identified how apprentices fit in with traditional student pathways and how we offer support for this new type of learner. UCLan’s objective is to accelerate the number of apprenticeships in the region and we have plans in place to allow students mid-way through their degrees to switch onto a flexible degree apprenticeship programme.
“This is a great opportunity for employers as they get work-ready graduates trained in their environments, enabling them to ensure they are recruiting the right people who can add value to their business – almost a ‘try before you buy’ approach to staff recruitment. It is also positive for UCLan students who graduate, not only with considerable work experience but also with less student debt, which is one of the first initiatives of its kind in the country.
“SMEs in particular are best positioned to take advantage of working with degree apprenticeship students and can be matched with an apprentice that fits business sectors earmarked by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership as priority areas. Students will transition from a full-time student to a full-time employee within a Lancashire SME. This is one of the many innovative approaches UCLan is taking to provide the skills needed by the business community.”
The business breakfast event also discussed the potential devolution of Government power to build a skilled labour market for all. Delegates considered whether taking control over regional skills budgets to shape specific education and training needs could be the solution.
Chris McKenna from Downtown in Business commented: “Business leaders from across the county fed into the panel their experience and frustrations within the current model, as well as exploring new ways they could work with larger organisations such as the University of Central Lancashire in exploring the remit of apprenticeship levy, complexity and engaging with smaller SME’s.
“New schemes, such as the one to be launched at UCLan, will encourage growth in both big and small businesses and show an exemplar use of the current levy in order for apprentices to leave with zero debt and, more importantly, a job at the end of their degree.
“Indeed, measuring the impact is a difficult task in itself – Henri commented ‘the current impact age is 25 – a key milestone to see if education is having an impact.’ The journey to engage is important and being able to engage at all levels is an important issue – one to be discussed in debate around devolution, of which Downtown will be hosting next week.”