City Region celebrates drive to recruit more apprentices


This week marks the seventh year celebrating National Apprenticeship Week, a week when all eyes are on apprentices and employers up and down the country. The ambition is to increase awareness, celebrate talent and raise the profile of apprentices amongst businesses, individuals, teachers, parents and the media.

The Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (the LEP) is leading the way by organising a 2014 Apprenticeship Challenge to encourage greater take up of apprenticeships.

The LEP’s ambition is to transform the future of Leeds City Region, building a knowledge-rich, creative economy fired by resurgent manufacturing, technical and engineering expertise. This will demand the highest levels of education in our workforce, from the youngest apprentices through to the leaders of our big businesses. It is striking how many of the region’s top business leaders started off as apprentices whilst apprenticeships play a critical part in developing a loyal, productive workforce, trained to the exact requirements of a business.

His Royal Highness The Duke of York KG will launch the 2014 Apprenticeship Challenge today when he is welcomed to the region to meet with businesses and young people who have embarked on the journey to “earn and learn.”

Thanks to funding secured through the City Region’s City Deal with Government in 2012, we have been able to create eight Apprenticeship Hubs across the region. These Hubs offer a free and impartial advice service to SMEs to help them take on apprentices.

Over the last year, over five hundred SMEs offered new apprenticeship opportunities in the Leeds City Region - a terrific result. The 2014 Apprenticeship Challenge aim to increase that number to 1000 new apprenticeships this year.

His Royal Highness will ask businesses to pledge their support whilst the local Hubs and two new Apprentice Training Agencies, designed to shoulder the administrative burden for SMEs, will help businesses get started. Our long-term ambition is to turn our city region into one where all young people are in work, education and training. This will not be easy in the current climate however we have seen some real success to date on our 16-18 Youth Contract programme with success rates of 68%. Two new projects – Headstart and Talent Match - will launch soon to address unemployment of 18-24 year olds. Our apprenticeship schemes are therefore part of a wider LEP programme to better prepare our region’s young people for work and help them move into employment.

We are also working hard with universities, colleges and other training agencies and a raft of private sector champions to encourage more SMEs to invest in up skilling their existing workforce. We have identified skills that are in high demand but have insufficient supply and we are doing something to address this mismatch. Thus, one of our private sector champions, Paul Gibson CEO of Purenet, is leading on a new software coding “accelerator project”, which will enable people to quickly acquire the specific coding skills that local SMEs need. If this proves a success, other accelerator programmes could help address skills mismatches within other sectors.

All LEPs are currently making the case to Government for devolved budgets and greater local decision-making on the critical issues that affect their regions. We hope that we will be successful in securing greater autonomy to address our opportunities and skills challenges. Businesses will always be central in our efforts to help secure better futures for our young people. Our ‘five three one’ campaign challenges businesses to invest in future skills, to offer work placements and real-world exposure to young people. We need to inspire and encourage young people towards developing future technologies, products and services. To achieve this, we need to couple the passion and commitment of business leaders with that of teachers and advisers so that everyone is stretching the capabilities and aspirations of their students and employees.

The LEP is acknowledged by government to be a national leader on the Skills agenda. A capable, flexible and competent workforce will drive the growth of our region and for this reason it is one of the LEP’s core strategic objectives. I am excited and proud to be working with so many committed and talented people within the LEP and the wider network of providers partners and businesses to achieve our ambitions in the years ahead.

This article appears in the business pages of the Yorkshire Post on 04/03/2014.