Home grown talent: A regional strategy for training and retaining skills

Matthew Lewis

By Matthew Lewis and Grace Bennett from Squire Patton Boggs, Leeds.

The North has always been a vibrant hub of industrial activity and innovation. As the Northern Powerhouse spotlight shines firmly on Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield, our cities are proving that the North has what it takes to help drive the UK economy. The region continues to gather momentum in the race to dominate the tech industry, with advanced manufacturing, media, aviation and aerospace, engineering and energy sectors also thriving.

However, keeping the heart of the Northern Powerhouse beating is no easy feat, particularly in the face of Brexit and the prospect of the first limb of HS2 dragging work and opportunities to the South. Businesses across the region must focus not only on winning their titles as national industry leaders, but also on retaining that reputation for years to come.

The future undoubtedly lies within the knowledge base, skill-set and commitment of the people living and working across the region and those encouraged to relocate to the North, driving business performance and delivering wide-scale commercial success. But are we doing enough to train and retain the workforce of the future?

Last year saw the development of a partnership between professional services firm KPMG, Lancaster University and the Class of 92, with the aim of building a new kind of university academy. The primary focus of UA92 will be to harness talent from local communities, breaking the social and economic barriers that students have traditionally faced.

By delivering on its promise to raise the aspirations of those with disadvantaged backgrounds, the university has the potential to unlock local talent and drive forward the success of Greater Manchester. There is no doubt that a state-of the-art learning hub, with both academic and skills-based programmes, will help to develop generations to come.

What’s more, this Trafford-based higher education institute will focus on emotional intelligence and resilience, helping to create individuals who are able to build successful careers in the midst of modern-day pressures. Add this to the list of already established and world-renowned university programmes across the North, such as the South Yorkshire Futures programme led by Sheffield Hallam University, and it is clear that the region is building some of the UK’s brightest future talent.

Whilst generating well-rounded graduates is a success in itself, the true benefit to the northern economy comes when these graduates stay in the region and don’t feel the need to head south, thereby feeding their skills back into the towns and cities that they grew up in and encouraging others to do the same. Factors such as housing affordability and career opportunities rank high on students’ agendas and the region is well positioned to provide both. In doing so, the Northern Powerhouse is increasingly recognised as a proud place to call home.

The many benefits of alternative education, particularly apprenticeship programmes, have also been embraced across the North. It is recognised that apprenticeships are an effective way to minimise the risk of unemployment and provide a practical route for developing talent, particularly for those at school-leaver age. Lower rates of unemployment, in turn, create higher rates of productivity across the region and close vital skills gaps faced by local employers.

With this in mind, apprenticeships are attracting significant attention from both students and businesses, with colleges and local authorities keen to harness this opportunity. For example, the Liverpool City Region Apprenticeship Growth Plan is aimed exclusively at driving forward apprenticeship delivery over the next three years.

With a target of 20,000 apprentices being delivered across the city by 2020, the opportunity for employers and apprentices is growing, provided that employers, local authorities and learning establishments continue to work closely together.

In addition to the 16-18-year-old cohort, apprenticeships are a useful tool for widening the skills of current employees who may have joined the business in a different role or wish to develop their potential to achieve. With the government’s announcement that mayors in the North will have control of the Adult Education Budget from 2018/19, the provision and delivery of services can be targeted to the sectors that are best placed to make the most of this opportunity. Opening pathways like this are another way to drive ambition, growth and, ultimately, success across the local labour market.

It is, therefore, clear that the key to building and keeping northern talent is for our towns and cities to collaborate with employers, local authorities, schools and colleges, universities, independent training providers and other stakeholders. By doing so, industry and education become aligned to the commercial needs of the different sectors and to the career aspirations of students and workers across the region.

By embracing this approach, the North will create jobs that are desirable and skills that are essential to building a sustainable and desirable regional workplace. The North is building a generation of professionals with industry expertise, commercial awareness and, hopefully, an aspiration to continue to fuel the Northern Powerhouse for years to come.