Bernie Callaghan: Development of skills lynchpin to economic growth

High-level skills training is a powerful way to invigorate the North East economy believes Bernie Callaghan

Bernie Callaghan
Bernie Callaghan

High-level skills training is a powerful way to invigorate the North East economy.

The way in which the North East is shaping key sectors around offshore and renewables, automotive and advanced manufacturing, healthcare and digital technology, mean that the skills needed for tomorrow’s regional economy are significantly different from some of today’s requirements.

Targeted skills development is hugely important in tackling shortages and achieving a global competitive edge.

UK businesses recognise the need to invest in skills, spending around £49billion in 2011 alone on training.

Skilled employees help to build and strengthen high-value industries that lead to growth and productivity.

A good number of businesses in growing sectors across the UK, however, feel they can’t find the quality candidates they need to drive their enterprises forward.

The connections between schools, vocational training, graduate degrees, lifelong learning and the workplace have to be strengthened to engage all ages in providing training in new skills.

As well as post-school training, the earlier that pupils gain an understanding of the sectors powering the growth of the North East and the UK, and what skills are needed to be part of that exciting future, the better.

The pace of change requires early engagement that carries on through higher and further education to careers.

A review of vocational qualifications in 2011 found that between a quarter and a third of young people aged 16-19 are not pursuing options that offer routes to higher-level skills or the prospect of long-term, meaningful employment.

Learning for a purpose is paramount at university.

Placements are an important feature of many of our degrees.

Securing involvement from businesses to expand placement opportunities is pivotal for students and in turn for employers and the future economic confidence of the UK.

We have introduced employability modules in each year of our business and management degrees to help create graduates who can be most effective in a job.

Sunderland is the only UK university, to my knowledge, which tackles employability through face-to-face and group discussions at each level of a business degree.

The new focus on an apprenticeship hub and the moves towards a University Technical College in the North East are huge steps forward which could transform career prospects for many thousands of local people.

Skills development is the lynchpin of economic growth, and it’s great to see substantial changes in the pipeline to strengthen the region’s competitiveness worldwide.

Professor Bernie Callaghan is dean of the faculty of business and law, University of Sunderland

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