21 January 2016

Jo Lappin, Chief Executive at Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership, explores why unaddressed skills shortages will prevent economic growth.

Northamptonshire is one of the most entrepreneurial and fastest growing places in the country and here at NEP we are working with local partners and government to unlock Northamptonshire’s significant growth potential. Our aim is to increase the local economy from £16 billion to £20 billion, create 32,500 new jobs and support the building of 37,000 new homes by 2021.

A bold ambition, but given Northamptonshire’s significant track record, one that is realistic and achievable. Northamptonshire really is the place for growth – it has the people, location, assets, can-do attitude and entrepreneurial spirit to become one of the fastest growing economies in the country and create long lasting prosperity for our businesses, people and communities.

However, when I started as NEP’s Chief Executive just over two years ago it became clear that a skilled workforce would be critical to delivering on that ambition and that skills shortages, unless addressed, would act as a brake to growth. It was therefore critical that we addressed both the immediate ‘here and now’ skills issues but importantly develop the skills pipeline by ensuring that young people were developing the skills needed for the 21st century workplace. We therefore developed a range of programmes to move forward on both fronts.

In order to develop the skills pipeline we warmly welcomed Lord Young’s ‘Enterprise for All’ recommendation on the creation of Enterprise Advisers to link the world of education and the world of work and offered to become one of the five national Enterprise Advisers pilots. We gained significant interest from our businesses and secondary schools, recruiting senior business leads to work directly with the top teams in 18 schools to develop an Economy and Enterprise Plan, which outlines the ‘careers curriculum’ from Year 7 up. This worked really well, with schools and businesses gaining a much stronger understanding of how each operates, resulting in  genuine mutual respect. Importantly, this joint work resulted in a deeper understanding of the economy, businesses and jobs available locally and their skills requirements, which in turn informed curriculum development and the information, advice and guidance provided to young people.

I was therefore delighted when the Careers and Enterprise Company decided to adopt much of the Northamptonshire model for the national roll-out of Enterprise Advisers. It was equally pleasing to see our schools and Enterprise Advisers receiving recognition for their excellent work during the House of Lords launch of the Enterprise Advisers programme, when they featured in the video case study.  The national rollout of the Enterprise Advisers scheme has meant that NEP has been able to increase the number of schools involved, with 28 now signed up for the programme.

One of Northampton Academy’s year 13 students summed up the programme perfectly saying, "I can honestly say that every experience (learning from local business professionals) just adds a little more to our knowledge and skills base and helps improve our confidence when having to make important decisions about our futures. The scheme has taken me in a whole new direction, looking at careers I hadn’t even heard of."

Alongside the Enterprise Advisers programme, NEP has been delivering other programmes that link the world of education and the world of work, including the National Careers Service Inspiration contract, which has run in Northamptonshire for the last 10 months. This has already brokered over 100 activities in schools between business representatives and young people.

We have also worked to promote real careers in real businesses through the Bright Futures marketing campaign, which has used local people starting, building or at the pinnacle of their career in key employment sectors. This high profile campaign, using billboards, social media, talking walls in schools and electronic media, has gained significant coverage and given young people fresh insight into the many excellent career and apprenticeship opportunities available on their doorstep. In addition to inspiring young people to explore the breadth of career opportunities available locally, the campaign also encourages Northamptonshire businesses to appreciate the importance of investing in young people, essential for future growth and prosperity.

It is excellent that so many local companies, large and small, in all of Northamptonshire’s key sectors have responded to the challenge to link the worlds of work and education, committing themselves to forge ever stronger links with students and schools, offer apprenticeships, graduate and work placement positions, and to participate in careers events. Likewise our schools have been brilliant in committing time, energy and enthusiasm to making our education business activity a real success.

Jo Lappin2Jo Lappin is Chief Executive of Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership, one of the 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships responsible for driving economic growth in their area. Northamptonshire has one of the fastest growing UK populations and Jo has developed an ambitious strategy to grow its economy by £4 billion, create 32,500 new jobs and develop 37,000 new homes by 2021. Jo will be speaking at emfec's Annual Conference on 8 February 2016 - book your place here.