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East Midlands Chamber News

Skills shortcomings raised at MP's Breakfast

L-R: Richard Hayden of Rayden Engineering, Maggie Throup MP, Chamber Chief Executive Scott Knowles and Phil Stockley of trentbartonConservative MP Maggie Throup raised the subject of skills shortcomings among school-leavers when she met members of the Erewash business community this morning.

It was the opening gambit of her discussion with employers at the Chamber-organised MP’s breakfast event.

And members in attendance were happy to follow her lead with anecdotal evidence of where education was currently failing to meet business needs.

The Chamber’s Schools Forum was commended for brokering an interface between schools and the business community.

The general feeling, however, was that schools were too focused on Ofsted inspections, academic attainment and the need to achieve specific results to worry about making sure leavers had the skills needed to help them find work.

Members expressed concerns that while many firms in the furniture manufacturing and automotive sectors have excellent skilled work available they do not have a local labour supply as careers guidance is poor and that these trades are too often seen as outdated and negative connotations.

Much of this misconception, members claimed, came from teachers who have “never left school”.

It was strongly felt that apprenticeships are not pushed enough as a viable vocational option by schools, which tend to be led by funding streams that keep people in higher education courses that have little resemblance to the needs of industry.

The cost of taking-on staff was also raised, with emphasis on the significant jump in what a 19-year-old apprentice will expect once the National Living Wage comes into play in April.

With so many firms having to absorb these costs, manufacturers find themselves to be far less competitive when faced with challenges from cheap overseas imports.

Health and safety compliance also drives up costs for employers, as do auto-enrolment and the apprenticeship levy – all points raised for discussion with the Erewash MP.

Firms present explained how they would have to re-evaluate their wage structures in order to manage expectations, when it comes to maintaining pay differentials.

Attention was drawn to the inadequate local infrastructure, with claims that significant improvements will be needed to support the new station in Ilkeston and the HS2 hub at nearby Toton.

Members felt that not enough attention was being paid to the region - already facing marginalisation because of the Northern Powerhouse - in the Birmingham-centric Midlands Engine.

Concerns were also raised about the implications of the Buses Bill on local private operators. Under the Bill, The Conservatives plan to return control of public transport infrastructure to prescriptive local authority-led services that were originally abandoned when privatisation occurred in the 1980s.

Based largely upon the model that Government subsidy for Transport for London provides, members were interested to find-out the levels to which the Government was prepared to support Derbyshire.

The now-defunct Growth Accelerator programme was commended, but members expressed their dissatisfaction with how quickly the plug was pulled in the wake of announcements regarding the withdrawal of access to finance tools.