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Paul Carbert's column from yesterday's Journal on skills issues


Photo: Paul Carbert, policy adviser, North East England Chamber of Commerce

The Government’s policy on skills and technical education has undergone some significant changes over the past few years, and 2017 was no different. We are hopeful this year we will start to see some stability.

Perhaps the biggest change was the introduction of the apprenticeship reforms including an Apprenticeship Levy for large businesses. Overall, there was a decline in the number of apprenticeships started in the North East compared to the previous year, with a particularly sharp decline in the three months following the introduction of the reforms.

This has been a cause of some concern so in 2018, the Chamber will continue to campaign for greater flexibility in the apprenticeships system to ensure that SMEs, providers, and levy-payers can increase the take-up of apprenticeships.

On a positive note, the number of higher and degree apprenticeships increased in the North East, although at a slower rate than the national average. Teesside, Sunderland, and Newcastle universities were all awarded funding last year to develop their degree apprenticeship offerings, and we will work with them in 2018 to raise awareness of the opportunities for businesses and apprentices.

A key part of our work to increase the take-up of apprentices has been to support efforts to improve careers advice and guidance. We are delighted that the two-year pilot in the North East LEP area to test the Gatsby Good Career Guidance benchmarks in schools and colleges has been recognised as a success.

The schools and colleges taking part have made significant progress. The national careers strategy, published by the Department for Education in December, recognised this and called for all schools and colleges to meet the Gatsby benchmarks.

The inconsistency in careers guidance has been a concern of our members for a long time. Some positive steps to address this have been made over the past 12 months, and we are delighted that it is the North East leading the way.

One of the elements of a good careers programme is ensuring that pupils have encounters with employers and the workplace. We are supporting the Esh Group’s Building My Skills programme which provides pupils with five opportunities to connect with employers throughout the academic year, and has a focus on developing valuable employability skills.

Chamber members delivered more than 12,000 learner hours of learner activity in 49 schools across the region through Building My Skills and already on track to reach 30,000 by May. A flying start to 2018.