Let the North East take on skills crisis, says think tank

THE North East should be given control over its skills funding to tackle the huge problems of unqualified adults holding back the region’s economy, a think tank says.

THE North East should be given control over its skills funding to tackle the huge problems of unqualified adults holding back the region’s economy, a think tank says.

The report by IPPR North reveals the North East has more than 441,100 people with no qualifications and 5.4% fewer people with high skill levels compared to the national average.

It argues that the skills shortage could be tackled by adopting a more localised approach matching people in need of greater skills with the industries that need qualified workers.

The report has been published following figures from the University and College Union (UCU), which show that in some parts of the North East, more than a fifth of adults have no qualifications at all.

According to the UCU, the national average for adults with no qualifications is 10.7%, but in Newcastle this rises to 15.8% and the figure for Gateshead is 14%.

Affluent areas, such as Berwick in Northumberland and Durham City, fare better with 4.5% and 5.8% respectively.

But in Easington, County Durham, a staggering 21.4% of adults have no qualifications.

UCU’s regional official Iain Owens said: “Educational under-achievement is unacceptably high. The region’s hotspots have considerably more residents without any qualifications than the rest of the country.

“This culture of low aspiration needs to be addressed before it becomes the norm for people living in the worst-affected areas.

“We know it is the knowledge economy that will drive economic growth, enhance social mobility and enable our country to compete globally. Yet politicians all too often seem to see cutting off access for young and old to educational opportunities as an easy target.”

IPPR North’s report argues that the budget for adult further education, skills and apprenticeships, which currently stands at £3.8bn, should be shared out across the country.

It also recommends local enterprise partnerships and their local council partners should take greater responsibility for linking up skills, employment and growth in their local area.

IPPR North director Ed Cox said: “A localised approach to skills would help boost economic performance in the North and bring enormous benefits to the UK as a whole.

“LEPs need to play a key role in linking up skills, employment and growth in their local area and be given more responsibility over budgets.”

The report recommends increasing the provision of “local apprenticeship hubs” to enable employers to work together on training policies.

It says the priorities should be to improve the supply of high-quality apprenticeship places and to ensure that all young people are able to stay on in education and training.

A move away from intermediate apprenticeships in favour of advanced apprenticeships is urged as well by the think tank, along with an expansion of pre-apprenticeship training programmes.

IPPR North has also criticised the lack of a coherent strategy on careers guidance.

Andrew Hebden, assistant director of CBI North East, said: “We believe there is a really important role for businesses to play in helping to shape the education system in order to ensure that it is able to deliver the young people with the skills our economy needs for the future.

“There is already a huge amount of great work that goes on, with businesses engaging with schools in all sorts of different ways, from sponsoring breakfast clubs to staff reading programmes, delivering science lessons in industrial premises and, of course, businesses sponsoring academies.

“Even more businesses are keen to get involved.

“But it can be difficult to know how to do this or to measure the impact of their engagement.

“That’s why in our submission to Lord Adonis’s North East Commission, we call for a radical rethink of the way the education system in the North East operates.”

He added: “We want to see a new ‘Cradle to Career’ model adopted, which provides a clear strategy for the system which all stakeholders – including schools, local authorities, parents, Government, business, as well as higher and further education providers – buy into and which is measured against a set of agreed targets.

“This could include traditional educational attainment targets as well as a whole other range of social measures.”


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