New government must not “jeopardise” future workforce by losing momentum for training

Jason Mason, commercial director at Norfolk Training Services, said the county’s companies had a strong track record in taking on apprentices but recent political events could cause the focus on training to slip as financial planning took precedence.

He said even the apprenticeship levy – introduced by the government in April to help fund training positions – may lead to a slow-down in apprentice employment in the next two years as firms eligible to pay the levy, those with an annual pay bill of more than £3m, adjust their finances around it.

“In recent times, Norfolk apprenticeship numbers have outpaced national figures, something that the county’s employers and their workforces can rightly be proud of and which will have benefitted Norfolk business.

“Let’s not jeopardise this development of our present and future labour force and lose sight of the benefits for our economy that accrue from a skilled workforce,” he said.

With the general election less than a fortnight away Norfolk Chamber of Commerce is calling on the next government to improve the skills set of the future workforce, to plug shortages springing up in sectors from hospitality to engineering.

Suffolk Chamber has also called for more measures to protect the long-term health of the UK jobs market, including improving the transition from education to business by guaranteeing “experience of work” in all schools for under 16s.

As a region with an ageing population, equipping the East’s next generation with industry-specific skills or retraining those already in the workforce could be key to ensuring economic stability.

Norfolk Chamber public affairs manager Nova Fairbank cautioned against firms placing too much emphasis on apprenticeships.

“To fill the skills gap, businesses have to be able to attract, communicate and ultimately recruit and retain young people and they need to understand the best methods to do this.”

She added that businesses should engage with schools to “deliver improved soft skills and boost students’ job prospects”.

Dayle Bayliss, chair of the Suffolk Skills Show steering group, said Norfolk and Suffolk already have the benefit of good connections between local authorities, the chambers and education institutions.

“We are seeing some synergies – and what’s important is that we don’t stall or change what we are doing well,” she said.

However, Aoife O’Gorman, a director at Infinity Architects in Bury St Edmunds, felt that focusing education too closely on the needs of business could “stifle creativity”.

She said: “It’s about getting the balance right. I understand where it comes from and it’s a common complaint in the construction sector that we don’t get school-leavers who are work ready.

“But my concern is that I wouldn’t want to stifle creativity by solely focusing education on the workforce.

“In our case as architects, we go through seven years of training and in the first two years students are given a lot free rein and don’t have to spend their time solely in the office – and that helps with developing their creativity.”

Courtesy of EDP News

PRICE BAILEYActagen AccountantsHansellsYour Own Place