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City training providers fail to meet the needs of young people and the North East’s economy

February 11, 2016

In a hard-hitting report, ‘Skills For The Future’, produced by Newcastle City Council’s ‘Education, Skills and Training Task Group’, the city’s training providers, businesses and some schools are failing to meet the needs of the 16 to 24 age group and the region’s economy.

The aim of the Group, made up of Councillors and Post-16 Education experts, was to examine the learning and training opportunities available to young people in Newcastle aged 16-24 years (25 years for those with Special Needs). The group analysed the level of supply in relation to demand along with the accessibility and suitability of provision. The group explored the effectiveness of support offered to young people to achieve their full potential and equip them for the job opportunities and long-term career options available.

Areas for examination included the role of schools, regional colleges, training providers and links between them. We looked at the role of funders, particularly the Skills Funding Agency. The role of business and employers was examined, together with the choice and availability of apprenticeships. In addition, a range of careers advice was explored, including careers advice in the city’s schools. The role and scope of ‘Connexions’ in the Council was looked at, alongside teenager’s destinations after year 11. The responsibilities of different parts of the local authority, communications between them and with external agencies was taken into account.

Finally, the developing role of the North East Combined Authority and its potential to have a strategic role in skills training across the region was examined.
In the city 18 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds are NEETS – the highest in all core cities across the country. Although the number of NEETS aged 16 to 18 is falling, youth unemployment amongst young people under 25 is 12%, compared to 10% nationally. Young people have been hit hard by austerity. In a recession, young adults are often the first to be made laid off by firms, whilst new hiring opportunities are also lower. That’s why Post-16 providers, local businesses and Central Government must get it right if we are to give young people fulfilled and successful lives in a competitive jobs market especially that significant minority who are left behind.

All young people need to well- informed about career choices available to them from an early age, and supported in making the right decisions to enable them to follow their aspirations.

The region as a whole, and Newcastle in particular, need to be able to keep skilled and talented people, providing meaningful and rewarding employment opportunities and an appropriately skilled workforce to develop a thriving economy.

For both the welfare of young people and the North-East as a whole, our Group has had an ongoing interest in the effectiveness of post-16 education, skills and training provision. To date, Newcastle’s ‘Learning Challenge’, based on the successful London model, explored ways of narrowing the education achievement gap of disadvantaged youngsters in the city, but little research has been done on the Post-16 cohort in the city.

The group began by interviewing young people with a range of backgrounds and experiences, aged from 16 to 24, and we were alarmed to find that most had received no impartial advice and guidance on skills training (with the notable exception of one teenager who attended an Independent school!). Careers advice was inadequate and clearly failing. Many teachers had little experience or understanding of Post-16 vocational training opportunities, including apprenticeships, other than the traditional academic A-level route. As a result, many young people were not familiar with apprenticeships or Level 2 and 3 vocational courses provided by Newcastle and Gateshead Colleges. A similar report, published by Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw, reached similar findings. Preparation for work is ‘’poor’’ and careers guidance in schools and colleges is ‘’uniformly weak’’. In short, many were unable to make ‘’informed choices’’ at 16.

The Group then had a series of in-depth meetings with groups of careers advisors, council officials, skills training providers, funding bodies, representatives from industry and commerce and Senior College Managers. Disturbingly, some of the private training providers (state funded) were delivering job related courses, which were not relevant to meeting the needs of the changing regional economy. There appeared to be no insight into how the city’s economy will look like in 2020. There were also concerns about the quality of the provision. Some good and too much it simply bad. As Wilshaw notes in his own report, despite the Government’s ambitious apprenticeship programme, too many of these are of a poor quality, too short in length and fail to provide the skills employers need.
Our Group discovered that the current organisation and funding of skills provision in the North-East was ‘’something of a free for all’’ with little strategic leadership or direction raising the key question whether the needs of young people or industry were being seriously addressed. According to the North-East Skills Action Plan ‘’ the skills system in the North-East is a complex, interconnected web of institutions involved in designing, resourcing and delivering the improvement of skills. Councillor Hilary Franks, Chair of the Group and former Assistant Principal at Gateshead College, dubs it as a ‘’dysfunctional mess in need of leadership, an overview and re-organisation’’.

Schools are keeping hold of 16-year olds in order to boost funding , even though a significant minority may be better off following Btec National courses in Health, Care , Hospitality and Tourism , It and Business at local FE colleges. Several publicly funded private training organisations are failing to provide high-quality and meaningful accredited vocational programmes which lead to real jobs at the end of it. There appears to be little real co-ordination between Headteachers, College Principals, Senior Council officials and Business leaders.

That’s why the City Council’s decision to establish a ‘City Skills Hub’ is to be welcomed involving a partnership between Newcastle College, Connexions, Generation NE, Newcastle Futures and Newcastle City Learning. As Wilshaw rightly suggests the North-East requires a model federation of schools, to include secondaries and primaries, working with local nurseries, and a 14-19 University Technical College that would focus on high quality apprenticeships – giving vocational education equal status and ‘’parity of esteem’’ with school sixth forms and colleges which focus on academic A-level provision.

With the Government’s Devolution agenda now firmly on the table for the region, a new North-East Combined Authority and Elected Mayor in 2017 must take overall strategic responsibility for all skills training and careers guidance and public funding. To do otherwise is to let down thousands of young adults as well as failing to meets the skills needs and shortages of a changing regional economy.

Stephen Lambert is a Newcastle City Councillor. He is a member of the City Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee which commissioned the report ‘Education, Skills and Training in the City’. Until 2011 Stephen was a member of the Council’s Workforce and Learning Development Board.

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