CONGRATULATIONS to all of those young people who have received their GCSE and A-Level exam results across the region, I hope the months and years of hard work have paid off.
This year’s exam results coincide with the release of the latest labour market statistics from the ONS, which look extremely positive with record numbers of people in employment and the lowest level of unemployment since 1975.
Prospects for the next generation entering the workforce should be fantastic as employers across the country cry out for talent. The Chamber’s own economic survey of regional employers echoes the national position with companies seeking to recruit in increasingly larger numbers.
Yet, despite this activity, 45 per cent of manufacturers said they struggled to recruit appropriately skilled people in the last quarter.
The Leeds City Region is still home to the largest manufacturing base in the UK, with 7,000 manufacturing businesses employing around 140,000 people and a sales turnover of £25bn.
The sector makes an enormous contribution, not just to the City Region economy, but to the national purse. If we are to continue to make a contribution, then we must ensure that our young people are aware of the job and training opportunities which exist.
To this end the importance of independent and impartial careers advice cannot be under-estimated and this has to be built into the curriculum as early as possible. We simply have to join the dots between sciences, technology, mathematics – and, now increasingly as important, art and design – and the career possibilities in engineering.
Students have to understand the implications for taking and dropping subjects at GCSE and the career avenues this opens and closes.
While I acknowledge that some progress is being made, for example through the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership’s ‘Enterprise Advisor’ initiative or the Ahead Partnership’s ‘Make the Grade’ programme, still more has to be done.
But it isn’t just about high quality careers advice. Employers don’t just want academic qualifications. They want young people with what are often referred to as ‘soft skills’.
Curiosity and imagination, problem-solving, resilience, creativity, team working, confidence and communication, these are all attributes which employers value highly.
However the pressure on education leaders to meet Government targets which focus on exam results rather than the development of fully-rounded individuals is a concern. The old mantra “hire for attitude and train for skill” is still valid and we are failing our young people if we do not build time into the curriculum to allow these traits to develop.
In preparing young people to make informed choices, we must ensure that they are aware of all relevant pathways including both higher and further education.
Apprenticeships, which have long formed an essential part of the engineering talent pipeline, should increase in relevance, driven in part by the Government’s desire to see three million more apprentices by 2020 and the recent introduction of the Apprentice Levy.
However, I believe there is still much to do in order to raise the awareness of this pathway, especially in the minds of parents, teachers and young people themselves. Parity of esteem between vocational and academic routes must be a collective goal.
We need to make apprenticeship vacancies as visible as possible. Perhaps we could create an apprenticeship clearing house akin to UCAS, hosted at a Leeds City Region level and supported by people who really understand the regional economy including the companies and educational establishments based within it?
I believe it is a shared responsibility between business, education and government (local and national) to address the skills challenges across the country. Personally, I was involved in creating West Yorkshire’s first University Technical College. UTC Leeds, a new school for engineering and advanced manufacturing, opened in September 2016. This was, and remains, a fantastic example of collaboration across industry, higher and further education.
I am still involved as a governor and, as we move into our second full year of opening, I am confident that any student with an interest in technology, science or engineering who attends UTC Leeds will have a fantastic start in life.
As vice chairman of the West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, I am committed to bridging the gap between business and education. We need to ensure students are leaving education with the skills that meet labour market demands, are informed about the opportunities available and as prepared for life’s challenges as we can make them.
Graham Cooper is vice chairman of West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.