Let's use collaboration to reimagine our regional hubs - Sophie Morley of Clarion

Following the massive impact on the regional economy of change dynamics such as Brexit, Covid and climate change, there is a greater need than ever to bring together cities, towns and communities to share experiences, discuss challenges and explore areas for mutual support and innovation, working  with both public and private sector organisations.

With this in mind, we’ve been holding a series of roundtables throughout Yorkshire with a focus on regions that have secured national levelling up or towns funds where there are greater opportunities to enhance value through collaboration.

A number of places in the region, such as Keighley, Shipley, Dewsbury, and Brighouse will also benefit from the announcement of a £700m Towns Deal to boost local economies, create jobs and help them build back better post-pandemic.

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One of the most prevalent themes at the roundtables has been the issue of a skills gap – for example rural towns like Skipton are finding it difficult to recruit, particularly for lower paid jobs as local housing is expensive and travel costs are escalating. In contrast other towns outside the main cities are struggling to find locals to work and stay in the area, feeling there are better opportunities elsewhere.

Sophie Morley, is a  partner at the law firm ClarionSophie Morley, is a  partner at the law firm Clarion
Sophie Morley, is a partner at the law firm Clarion

There is a great opportunity for towns to come together across public and private sectors and join forces to have a real impact. For example, with increasing pressure from government for local colleges to be more relevant and interact with the private sector, there needs to be alignment from schools and colleges in order to develop young people with the right skills and the right mindset.

One of the problems for some sectors is a lack of awareness among young people of the salaries and exciting career opportunities available - towns like Keighley are dominated by advanced manufacturers and have aspirations to develop satellite technology, but there is a real lack of relevant skills.

Why not encourage manufacturers to come together to hold an open day in a local shopping centre to showcase their most innovative products with their senior people getting youngsters and their parents inspired about going into a career like engineering? In this way, a joint vision could be created for individual families, the region and the town, backed up by a skill set developed at local schools and colleges.

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The skills gap is particularly prevalent in sought-after occupations such as electrical engineers and there is a lack of people available to teach these skills – perhaps businesses need to collaborate with colleges to ‘lend’ an electrical engineer for an afternoon a week and, in return, the college will then be able to develop students with the skills these businesses require.

Employers also identified a need for resilience training for young people across the board – after the disruption of the last two years, many now lack awareness of the reality of the world of work and seem unable to stick at a job. Again, those are skills that local schools and colleges can develop.

There’s also a desire from businesses to grow sustainably with ESG initiatives moving up the corporate agenda post-Covid. This again fits with recruitment issues both as a way of attracting candidates with ethical concerns and also enabling businesses to meet their expectations, for example, with tech companies offering the flexible hours to allow employees to work more flexibly and have a day for a volunteering role or other business venture for example.

Having held events in Leeds, Bradford, Keighley, Skipton and Barnsley and with future roundtables planned for Dewsbury, Brighouse, Ripon, Huddersfield and other locations, there seems to be a consensus that the way forward for Yorkshire is about focusing on how communities can come together around the skills and innovation agenda, bringing academia together with the private sector and getting better collaboration and alignment.

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As we face some choppy economic waters ahead, collaboration for mutual benefit has a vital role to play– it’s no longer about being adversarial and constantly competing, but rather about sharing experience and knowledge to enable everyone to be more of a winner. From the topline successes of initiatives such as Leeds 2023 and Bradford 2025, it’s important to break down into manageable sub-regions and bring together stakeholders at a local level to see what they have in common and start to make things happen – in this way, we can drive success for the region as a whole.

By Sophie Morley, Partner, Clarion