Employers and educators must tackle skills gap

All the talk about the potential impact of a Northern Powerhouse is – to paraphrase Newcastle United’s owner – putting the cart before the horse.

Employment specialists Manpower and PwC have both highlighted a shortage of skills, particularly in the IT sector, as a major obstacle to building momentum in the region’s economy…whether that’s through a Northern Powerhouse or any other force for change.

While the Northern Powerhouse has yet to create a single job or produce a penny for the region – and perhaps never will – it has stimulated a valuable debate about both the future of the North East’s economy as well as its governance.

But, as reinforced by Manpower and PWC, the starting point for that debate remains the same. It is a ticking time bomb called the skills gap which employers have been warning about for years.

Surely now is the time, before it really is too late, for better communication and co-ordination between business and educators.

The problems– an ageing workforce and young people apparently ill-prepared for the world of work – have long been recognised yet few inroads seem to have been made.

The lead surely has to come from the business community. What are its needs? What opportunities exist now and in five, 10, 15 years’ time?

In return schools, colleges and universities must do even more to prepare their charges for life beyond education…which for the majority should be seen as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

Schools are embracing enterprise and the practical application of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) as never before, but there is clearly still a disconnection between the needs of employers and the skills possessed by young people leaving education. This is in need of urgent redress.

Individual businesses and sectors such as manufacturing have recognised the challenge and put plans in place to safeguard their futures. But a far broader strategy is required across the region or regions. The Northern Powerhouse, or whatever we wish to call it, must take the lead and harness the momentum of the current debate. It must bring about proper engagement between business and educators to ensure they work together to maximise opportunities. That is the only way to offer hope to our young people and a brighter future for the region.