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Growing our own in South Essex – how we are harnessing HE growth with regional business growth

  • 22 January 2023
  • By Scott Logan

This blog has been kindly written for HEPI by Scott Logan, Chief Executive Chair of the Association of South Essex Local Authorities

Growth – like happiness – we all want it. But we can’t always agree how best to get it. The link between growth and happiness goes further than this surface similarity. According to Dr David Bartram of the University of Leicester, countries that allow economic inequality to increase as they grow richer make their citizens less happy. Hence the policy focus on levelling up. 

Boosting productivity and living standards is a key theme of the Government’s Levelling Up programme. Improving skills is key to this.

James Coe wrote in September about the clear electoral appeal in capital investment, aligned to skills, to build a high value and high wage economy. Levelling up in action, he called it.

Here in South Essex we too are pursuing levelling up in action, as well as pushing forward the Government’s employer-led skills improvement agenda, which places employers at the heart of local skills systems and facilitates direct and dynamic working arrangements between employers and providers.

A word of explanation may be due here to those not familiar with our corner of South-East England, or whose idea of it is shaped by TOWIE [The Only Way Is Essex] and Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney characterisation. South Essex is a major economy and destination, similar in size to the West of England, North of Tyne or Tees Valley combined authority areas. With 800,000 people and 32,000 businesses, four major ports and an international airport, proximity to London and the Thames through which we are connected to the trading world, South Essex has the potential to be one of the most prosperous regions in the UK.

But to achieve that potential we first need to crack some very real skills challenges. We have gaps and shortages particularly in technical skills and at advanced levels. And with a rich advanced engineering and manufacturing employer base, that’s holding our regional economy back in a big way.

This is precisely the sort of challenge that the seven councils that make up the Association of South Essex Local Authorities have come together to tackle in a way that we can’t working as individual authorities. By working with, and listening to, our major employers together we have come up with one solution, which we believe will make a major contribution to plugging both the skills gap and the skills shortage.  

Led by employers and managed by the Association of South Essex Local Authorities (ASELA) we have initiated a project to start delivering work-based training for degree-level apprentices in September 2023. 

Our initial focus will be on logistics, data automation/AI, electrical engineering, system engineering and mechanical engineering. We will grow provision over time to include ‘in-work learners’ to re-skill and up-skill existing workforces, learners not in work (ie more traditional (under) graduate students), and by extending our reach to work with both small and large employers across the South Essex area.

The initial business drive is coming from (appropriately) Ford Motor Company UK, Leonardo, DP World, London Southend Airport and TEVVA Motors. Each is providing senior level resource from their businesses to help shape and guide the delivery of advanced technical skills education and committing operational resource to get the new provision up and running.

Ford UK is one of the largest employers in South Essex, employing around 5,500 staff in the region. They have been telling us for some time that they are experiencing both skills gaps and skills shortages in fields such as engineering, automation and logistics. Ford UK is consequently right behind this exciting initiative. Leonardo UK, one of the UK’s leading aerospace companies, employs over 600 staff at its Basildon site, tell us they face the exact same challenges. Senior Vice President Wayne Clifton, himself a former apprentice, told me that their early career recruits are a key pipeline for future talent. The new local provision we are developing will help Leonardo, and other companies in our region, alleviate these challenges.

We are now looking for a higher education provider or providers who are excited by the prospect of getting inside these, and our other, global brands to shape future industry-based training and to upskill, reskill and newly skill the workforce of today and tomorrow.

We aim to establish a strong collaboration between employers, further education and higher education providers; harnessing the teaching and research expertise of education, and industry knowledge and expertise from employers, to provide a strong and clear focus on employment outcomes.

Together we want to provide a leading-edge education and learning experience, making use of digital, blended learning techniques to enable students across the whole of South Essex to access learning, reaching particularly into those communities where higher education has not traditionally been considered an option.

We believe this partnership will improve skills, boost productivity and living standards, keep our major employers in our region and attract new ones. That’s got to make us all happier, hasn’t it?

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