North East firms call for Government reforms to help create more apprenticeships

The demands coincide with the Journal's 'Proud to Back Apprenticeships' campaign

Dianne Sharp, the regional director for the CBI
Dianne Sharp, the regional director for the CBI

Firms in the North East are calling on the Government to help them create more apprenticeships to deal with a growing skills gap.

They want reforms introduced for new programmes to meet specific business needs, cut red tape and route grants directly to employers.

They also want schools to boost the core skills of literacy and numeracy of youngsters at primary level, while improving their links with firms for pupils aged 14 through to students in higher education to make them more business “ready”.

The demand for change was detailed in the 2014 CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey, to which 291 businesses contributed, including 90 which employ people in the North East.

It found that firms in the region have a growing need for higher skills with 82% of those asked expecting demand to increase in the next three to five years.

However, 68% of the companies said they were not confident they will be able to access enough highly skilled workers to meet their needs.

In all, 70% of firms in the North East which already run apprenticeships plan to increase them in the years ahead. But many are still reluctant to get involved, leading to the demand for reforms which would make firms more likely to take on apprentices.

Dianne Sharp, CBI North East regional director, said: “It’s increasingly clear that the North East faces a shortage in skilled technicians in the years ahead if we fail to create more chances for young people leaving education and for existing workers.

“Apprenticeships can help benefit the local economy but also tackle the scourge of youth unemployment.

“The North East has been a driving force in the UK’s economic recovery and if we are to build on this, we need a highly skilled workforce to meet growing demand from local firms.

“But we need even more companies to get involved and the Government can help by cutting more red tape, ensuring the apprenticeship system is truly based on the needs of firms and giving business real purchasing power by putting funding directly in the hands of employers on the ground.”

She said one stark example of the issue is that fact that less than half of small-to-medium sized enterprises have apprenticeship schemes while more than 90% large firms do.

Last September, The Journal launched its Proud to Back Apprenticeships campaign in a bid to close this skills gap in the North East.

We published an open letter challenging businesses to do more to address the issue and play their part in up-skilling the region’s workforce and there has been a tremendous response to it.

The CBI/Pearson survey showed that two-thirds of those companies which currently run apprenticeship schemes plan to give more young people in the North East an opportunity to take their first steps into the job market.

Rod Bristow, President of Pearson UK and Core Markets, said: “Everyone agrees that all our young people should be better supported as they prepare for the workplace – business leaders in the North East are echoing the voices of teachers, ministers and indeed young people themselves in calling for a more joined up approach to the transition from education to employment.

“The challenge now is to grasp the nettle so we bring employment and education opportunities together to meet the urgent social and economic need of creating a more highly-skilled workforce in the North East and across the UK.”

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