Apprentices key to business productivity and LEP can help

It’s National Careers and Apprenticeships Week, so in this month’s column I’m focusing on what we and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority are doing to help young people in our region reach their potential.

Since the LEP was established, we and our partners have worked hard to ensure that young people are able to participate fully in the economy. As a father of five, this is not just a big priority for me personally; it’s also critical to our region’s future economic prosperity.

We have consistently been among the first city regions in the country to develop initiatives that enable young people to get the best possible start in life – whether it’s pilots around careers and enterprise, devolved grants programmes encouraging small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to offer apprenticeships, or schemes tackling youth unemployment.

We continue to build on that commitment to young people. Last week we launched our #futuregoals campaign – an initiative designed by young people for young people, their parents and teachers – to improve awareness of career opportunities in our region’s fastest growing sectors.

The campaign aims to help young people get into careers that offer significant opportunity for progression, as well as address skills shortages in the digital, construction, manufacturing and engineering sectors.

The scale of opportunity for young people in these sectors is enormous. 41,000 digital jobs were advertised last year and, with major investment in HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and other large-scale infrastructure projects in the pipeline, the demand for engineers and skilled construction professionals in our region is huge.

Likewise the manufacturing sector in Leeds City Region – the largest manufacturing employment centre anywhere in the country – needs young talent to replace an increasingly ageing workforce.

I have seen first-hand just how exciting the opportunities are in innovative, high-tech manufacturing firms such as Reliance Precision, Tissue Regenix and Premier Farnell, which only last month announced ambitious £65m expansion plans in our Enterprise Zone. Our job now – working with schools and businesses – is ensuring that young people are equally excited by those opportunities.

Businesses have a critical role in nurturing the next generation of skilled workers, and work experience is a simple starting point. According to our latest annual report on the City Region labour market, 68% of employers see work experience as a critical or significant factor when recruiting – ahead of formal academic or vocational qualifications. However, only 36% of employers currently report offering work experience opportunities.

One way that employers can create opportunities for young people to gain an insight into business is through our Enterprise Adviser programme. Over 130 business leaders have so far volunteered their time and expertise through this initiative, which connects schools and employers and helps young people develop the skills that businesses need.

Employers already involved speak positively about the benefits to their business. The benefits for young people are also significant, with research highlighting that young people who have interactions with employers earn 18% more over their lifetime.

And of course, apprenticeships remain an important route to a great career for many young people.

For several years, our region has led the way nationally in the number of apprenticeships we offer. Like much of the country, there is evidence that the number of businesses offering apprenticeships has fallen due to recent reforms of the apprenticeship system, however it remains one of the best ways of bringing new talent into your business.

Catherine Carlyle, General Manager of Caltech IT Ltd in Batley, recently spoke to the LEP about the apprentices her business has recruited, commenting that she has been “impressed with the energy apprentices bring to Caltech as well as the way they gain experience, which they commit to us. Our apprentices have ensured we have skilled technicians for the future.”

Support is available to make recruiting an apprentice easier. Over the past two years 4,000 SMEs have received funding through our apprenticeship grant for employers, creating over 2,600 opportunities for 16 to 18 year-olds and a further 1,200 opportunities for 19 to 24 year-olds. We will be launching a further round of funding later this year.

There is compelling evidence that investment in talent is good for business. According to a comprehensive survey of businesses we undertook last year, businesses with training plans in place for their employees saw increases in performance 10% higher than those that did not.

They also created 13% more jobs, which goes to show that the dividends not just to business, but to young people and our region’s economy, can be immense.