Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

This Is a Steep Learning Curve, and We Have to Master It

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

This Is a Steep Learning Curve, and We Have to Master It

Article excerpt

Byline: By Guy Anderson

A skills shortage in the North of England isn't just holding back job seekers; it is costing industry more than pounds 600m a year as Guy Anderson discovered.

Rapid growth in the region is creating more and more vacancies, but the number of people qualified to fill them is dwindling fast. The North has some of the lowest basic skills levels in the country, with 34pc of the population having no qualifications at all ( compared to 28pc nationally ( and only 15pc being educated to degree level.

Previously, industry looked to the education system for answers.

But now businesses are preparing to tackle the problem head-on with the backing of the Confederation of British Industry

Stephen Rankin, regional director, CBI North, said: "There are something like 400,000 people in the North-East who have the reading and numeracy of an 11-year-old and 25pc of them are employed in the private sector.

"It's costing the region pounds 600m a year in loss of productivity, and of course there is a human side to it too. We've got to get the right substance and quality of education."

The CBI in the region is preparing to launch Aspire ( it stands for Alliance for Security Progress In Regional Education.

Funding of pounds 6m has been secured to drive the project ahead for the next five years, with the aim of raising both skills and aspirations among teenagers in the region.

The scheme ( the product of a conversation between CBI North chairman Rod Taylor and Education Minister David Miliband ( will launch in October this year.

Mr Taylor said: "This project began 18 months ago with a conversation I had with David Miliband.

"We discussed what could be done to allow business to play a part in raising aspirations. The result has been Aspire."

CBI figures show that schoolchildren in the region perform better than those nationally at the age of seven. But by the age of 14, standards slip.

"This is an area we have a responsibility to work in," said Mr Taylor.

"The concern is that 14 to 19-year-olds have lower educational attainment standards and aspirations than the national average, and the situation has not been getting better. We need a generation in the North to aim higher.

"Aspire will act as an umbrella organisation to bring together existing organisations and to channel enquiries in the right direction.

"But we want more businesses to become involved. Businesses need to offer work experience, and publicise the skills they are looking for and the opportunities that are on offer."

It is not just the skills levels which are below the national standard. While CBI figures show that 60pc of teenagers want to work in the North of England, just 40pc believe they will find appropriate work.

Mr Rankin said: "There is a widespread belief, held by young people, their families and whole communities, that there are simply not enough good jobs available in the region to make it worthwhile working hard at school. …

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