Skills

The following article was written by Joe Colville.

The strength of our region in its ability to shape its own future depends on the skills base within it. The creation and retention of those skills drives a region into being a capable centre of economic growth. This skills development starts from schools, at young ages, to instil a strong work ethic and to create the foundation of ‘work ready’ skills, experiences that young people can use to understand how the workplace operates and to help get an idea of what they want to do in the future. But this also has the added benefit of creating a young workforce that can adapt to work and be much more productive than if they had no prior experiences in working environments.

Although there is a significant advertisement for apprenticeships, this is only one part of a skill chain that isn’t otherwise supported. Businesses and schools need to create work placement networks in their local areas to provide for their pupils the opportunities to get involved in experiencing work. A major problem for social mobility too is that many work placements are left to be found by the young person or their parents, someone without a strong background is then less likely to be able to find a placement that can suit their needs or be helpful for their personal development. A ‘placement board’ system where a school can present to its older years what opportunities are currently present to them for that year should go much further toward creating the necessary foundations of a skilled workforce.

A key problem in starting to develop the skills base in a historically depressed region, is that you have as we do, a persistent ‘brain drain’ effect on the existing provision for skills, this creates a cyclical problem, with no skills because there are no jobs, and also no jobs because there are no skills. To this end it is self-defeating to attract jobs which cannot be supported by local skills (since those that had the skills would have left for better opportunities elsewhere), or to create a deep and cohesive highly skilled workforce, with no jobs for them to fill.

It is then a major point that if a solution can be effectively provided, then this cycle can be broken. It would seem a solution does exist, in the form of agreements between local authorities and businesses to require only ‘work ready’ skills, and that the business will fill in the rest. This is a process already being used to some degree notably surrounding apprenticeship programmes and limited school institutions. However the present scale is not adequate for resolving the region wide issue of the skills shortage and such ‘work ready’ skills training should be expanded to as many young people as possible so that they can then be ready to enter work quickly and confidently.

Though what skills and in what areas? What will be the most advantageous for opportunities in the future? The answer to this differs region to region, but each region within Yorkshire has its own specialisms that it is trying to encourage based on its developing comparative advantages. Once starting to address the ‘work ready’ skills problem, we can then look to refining effective training and skills development in education for the specific sectors that the local regions want to encourage. Doing so at this stage would then allow the jobs base to be established, to give a reason for people to want to stay in the region to work.

The provision of these skills is primarily thought to be from universities, but colleges should try to create their own specialities in providing for one of the main local demands, university is not the be all and end all that it once was, and the trending difficulties with the university system does not justify giving it a monopoly over how we approach skills development. Even so, in sheer scale of numbers that the economy needs to train, it is also out of necessity that colleges be among the top priorities for developing effective and practical relevant skills training courses that the local industries need. With this provided, the industries would have its basic workforce locally, a reason to establish here, and then a workforce it can rely on to get the job done.

Lastly with a large older workforce in the region, these will be left behind if not also provided some way to adapt to the changing industrial sectors, as this was the failure of the 1970’s onward. Retraining these workers as they attempt to transition from older declining sectors, to newer emerging sectors will allow our region to retain and expand on a wealth of experience already held within the older generations.

This could be provided for by specific, part time, mature courses for retraining into these new industries. With a focus not on how to start working but on how to use what they already know in a new environment, as it is important to understand they know how to work, they have the ‘work ready’ skills that should be given to young people in later education, but they need the skills of how to use new equipment and new technologies. These aspects together, would form a path to rebuilding the skills base that Yorkshire deserves.

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