Skills at the heart of Leeds City Region economy

Stephanie Burras is chair of the LEP’s Employment and Skills Panel and Chief Executive of Ahead Partnership in Leeds. Here she sets out her thoughts on how we can tackle our skills challenges by growing a prosperous City Region economy.

Supporting people into work

Leeds City Region is a great place to forge a career, as my LEP Board colleagues and I can all testify. It has excellent educational institutions and fantastic businesses innovating new technologies, skills and products particularly in some of our high growth sectors such as fintech and data. The statistics bear out our individual experiences: the latest employment data from the Office of National Statistics shows a significant increase in people in work across the Leeds City Region - over 50,000 more than in the same period a year ago, with the employment rate rising to 72.5%, its highest level since March 2007.

As our economy continues to grow, we are forging ahead to build on that momentum. By helping people to find their way into appropriate work, boosting skills and confidence, expanding business operations and capability, we want to grow our regional economy in a way that enables everyone to achieve a good standard of living and employment.

Tacking our skills challenges

Despite all our strengths, Leeds City Region is not without its skills challenges. Unless we can equip our young people with the skills and experience they will need to be successful in the labour market of the future, unless we nurture and retain the talent within our schools and universities and create world class career opportunities within the private sector, we will achieve less than we are capable of.

In 2013, we were one of the first city regions to set out a Skills Plan outlining three priorities - building skills in education, helping people move into work and improving the skills of our workforce. Two years down the line we are looking again at this plan to make sure we keep pace with social and economic trends.

Delivering impact

Our current plan has created a solid foundation and our work is making a real difference to local people and businesses. Over 500 SMEs in our fastest growing sectors have been able to grow and develop their workforce thanks to skills funding we secured from government in 2015. We are responsible for directing devolved government funding which has enabled almost 3,000 businesses that have not already taken on an apprentice to explore new opportunities for growth. The number of people aged 18-24 claiming jobseekers allowance has fallen from 28,500 in May 2012 to just 8,250 today, taking us a long way towards our 2012 ambition of a “NEET-free” City Region, but with still more to do. Through our own programmes, 4,700 people have benefitted from one to one mentoring and support to stay in a job or start a career in the region.

Long term strategy and investment

As well as addressing the immediate skills needs of businesses, our strategy also focuses on developing a long-term pipeline of talent to meet the long-term demands of the labour market. This is why forging relationships between schools and businesses is one of our top priorities. For the past few years, we’ve undertaken an annual review of the labour market to understand changes and trends. We make this information available to schools, colleges and other careers providers to ensure that career advice is up to date and that young people are able to make informed choices about their future career path. Now we’re building bridges between headteachers and business leaders to help build enterprise skills into the curriculum and ensure young people enter the workforce with the skills that both they and companies need to prosper.

Join our consultation on our Strategic Economic Plan

At the same time, we are reviewing our overarching Strategic Economic Plan to take stock of the progress we’ve made so far and reflect changes in the regional, national and global economy. Our original Plan, published in March 2014, enabled us to secure a £1 billion Growth Deal with Government. We want to learn from the progress so far and ensure our plan remains focused on those areas that will make the biggest difference to businesses, jobs and growth. We encourage you to join this consultation and voice your opinions so we can shape a prosperous and growing future economy.

To find our more, follow @LeedsCityRegion on Twitter or visit our consultation page.