Improving skills and training is message for 2011

Investment in skills and training must be a priority for the Leeds City Region and the UK in 2011.

That was the message from Andy Clarke, chief executive of Asda, and Gary Lumby, president of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce, as they spoke at the Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner at the Queens Hotel in Leeds last night.

Mr Clarke stressed the importance of investing in young people. The supermarket has committed to creating 15,000 work experience opportunities for 14 to 16-year- olds across its stores. "And when I say work experience, I don't mean just stacking shelves and making tea for a fortnight," he said. "We will put students through a structured programme of work that gives them a real insight into how a big business operates and the kind of skills they need to have to succeed in life – from turning up on time to understanding cash flow and profit and loss."

Mr Clarke said Asda's ethos was to recruit for attitude and train for skill.

He added: "Things are difficult for business at the moment, but we should be confident in our ability to tackle the issues we face head on. We need to roll up our sleeves and get on with doing what we do best as retailers – creating jobs and career opportunities for people from all ages and backgrounds, and supporting our customers by offering them great value every day."

Both Mr Clarke and Mr Lumby encouraged businesses to invest in the up-skilling of their own workforce and Mr Lumby pointed out the success of a new Chamber scheme which helps businesses recruit and train an apprentice. The scheme has helped businesses across Leeds City Region access public funding to hire apprentices aged from 16 to 60 years.

He added: "We will continue to drive forward the skills agenda since it is clearly vital that our workforce has the skills to help business succeed and move up the value chain."

Both speakers outlined their forecast for 2011 and Mr Clarke discussed the latest results of the Asda income tracker which shows an 8 a week fall in family spending power compared to the same month a year ago.

Mr Clarke also confirmed Asda's commitment to Leeds in front of the crowd of 460 business leaders and local policy makers.

After-dinner entertainment was provided by Sky TV and radio commentator, Gary Newbon.