IT seems elementary to me that all our young people should have access to good schools and colleges to succeed. Here at your York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership (LEP), nowhere is this more apparent than in the work of our Skills department, or Inspired People as we call it.
This really came to life for me last Friday when I was honoured to cut the ribbon at the newly opened Harrogate College. It is our very first Skills Capital Investment project, and we are very proud of it.
Talking to students and those running the ship there, the excitement and enthusiasm towards the new facilities is exactly what we like to see.
With £3m from the government’s Local Growth Fund towards an overall £6m investment, the site has been transformed into a shiny new facility that more than meets our students’ future needs.
Previously spread over two sites, the college has been brought altogether into one building with the main building transformed into a high street. With a training bistro, hair and beauty salons and cafe, it is open to the public giving students a taste of working in a real life environment, essential for their training and confidence.
The redevelopment includes two state-of-the-art science laboratories, and a large art and design department including photography, fashion, recording and art studios, all with views of the glorious rolling Yorkshire countryside.
The build of the Technology Centre has provided space for mechanical, electrical, welding and joinery workshops.
It is a purpose-built environment that allows students access to top of the range equipment, such as electrical installation booths sponsored by Dunnington Electricals and joinery equipment sponsored by Howdens Joinery.
Providing long-lasting capital infrastructure is no easy task and requires our strategic economic planners to scratch their heads and look many years ahead.
Before they can make any judgements, they assess the current economic state of play which they did first here in 2014 through our Strategic Economic Plan. Of course, the economy is ever changing and to reflect this earlier this year we produced an updated plan.
It fits with our investment at Harrogate College, where we have demonstrated the skills our students need for the future and how we are planning to meet our future economy’s needs.
Through these evaluations, our economists found out that the make-up of our population is top heavy with 23 per cent of people over 65, compared to 18 per cent nationally.
This puts pressure on the younger age group – which is reducing, and means our area must work especially hard to attract and retain talent.
At the same time, we need to ensure that young people are prepared for the big economic opportunities coming here, and that businesses can recruit people with appropriate skills. It’s no easy task!
If you look at the character of our area’s workforce, most people work in professional services from call centres to accountancy, tourism, retail, warehousing and health.
As well as investing to ensure the skills of these people continue to meet industry standards; we need to also focus on the sectors driving our economy’s growth.
With our area’s traditional strengths in the rural economy and related research assets, we have identified that the really high level future jobs are in the bioeconomy.
This is an alternative to our carbon-based economy using renewable resources from land and sea. Making hydrogen powered tractors, if you please! These jobs are largely engineering, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, that’s STEM as we all know now.
Recruiting women from STEM subjects is still a problem I believe. I had a conversation with a young male engineer recently, and was disappointed to hear that the majority of his business contacts are still predominantly men.
According to the Institution of Engineering and Technology currently, just six per cent of the engineering workforce is female.
We know we need more engineers, but how can we get the numbers we need if we are only recruiting them from half of the workforce?
It stands to reason that we are working very hard with our colleges not only to provide new facilities, but also to combat gender stereotypes. An easy start is by showing images of women as scientists or men in healthcare so our young people can aspire to be them.
Whilst investing in skills infrastructure is only a small part of our work, we have also invested at Askham Bryan College – where new agri-technology training facilities will be open to students shortly.
In addition we have invested in equipment for Selby College, and we are already working on other projects which we expect to come to fruition in 2017.
Our commitment to all of this work is now and for the future – a highly skilled workforce is absolutely central to our economy’s health.
Talking in numbers
-Additional learners – 735
-Additional apprenticeships – 150
-Additional employers engaged – 50