Norman Jennings (Hertfordshire LEP) gave a presentation on the “Generation Stevenage” virtual careers fare held on 1 December 2020.
Norman advised that the event had been well-attended and had provided information on career opportunities for young people in Stevenage and the surrounding area, particularly in the field of science and technology. The event had been subsequently promoted by the Hertfordshire Opportunities Portal and had received over 7,000 views of various pages on the Portal.
In terms of the event itself, Norman commented that it was noteworthy that a slightly disappointing number of Stevenage Schools had featured in the top ten list of the numbers of those who had participated from each school.
Norman stated that it was hoped to hold a further Generations event later in 2021 to focus on career opportunities to be created from the Stevenage Town Centre Regeneration projects (e.g.) construction jobs and related professional technical qualifications/careers.
The Chair advised that the Government had recently published a White Paper on Further Education (FE), primarily aimed at dispelling the illusion that possession of a degree was the only way to progress in the work environment, but also address skills gaps by re-aligning the needs of employers with the opportunities available for young people through FE.
At the Chair’s invitation, Kit Davies summarised the White Paper. Kit stated that this was the first FE White Paper for 12 years, and contained the following 5 themes:
· Placing employers at the heart of the skills system.
· A focus on higher level technical skills (including commitments to Level 3, 4 and 5 qualifications.
· Training and Development for adult learners (a commitment to lifelong learning, whilst providing a more flexible system for study).
· Streamlined financial accountability – including simplifying processes for applying for external funding and allowing FE institutions increased financial autonomy; and
· Teaching – addressing pay disparities and an enhanced recognition that the training and development of people was key in achieving a skills output.
Kit explained that the White Paper had generally been well received by the FE sector. The sector acknowledged the need for the “levelling up” agenda and had the promotion of skills at its heart. Some of the proposals would require consultation and legislative changes, and some would be able to be actioned sooner than others. In broad terms, the White Paper echoed a number of the skills themes contained in the Stevenage Town Investment Plan document.
County Councillor David Williams commented that there was currently a review of the existing Hertfordshire Skills Strategy. Briege Leahy (Herts Chamber of Commerce) advised that she was happy to provide the Chamber’s support in any engagement with small and medium sized businesses regarding the skills agenda.
There was a general acceptance that Universities/FE Colleges and schools needed to work together to ensure that a greater quality of career choice was presented to young people, both at degree/professional and vocational level, in order to best match what be the most appropriate career paths for each individual.
At the Chair’s invitation, Sally Ann Forsyth (Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst) advised the Board of plans for development of the Catalyst/Catapult site, which was part of the leading European cluster of STEM related science companies. Although at the planning state, Sally Ann stated that the plan was to add 50% onto the Catapult site, moving further out from the existing campus. To fuel this growth in cell and gene technology would require the expertise of additional staff. The importance of skills in the area of digital analytics and their application would also need to be addressed.
Sally Ann advised that an Economic Impact Analysis of the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst was being carried out by an independent consultancy, in terms of its progress/achievements over the past 10 years and looking forward to the next 10 years. The Analysis was expected to be complete in February, and she offered to share the content with Board members.
The Board was supportive of the concept of the future creation of an environment to support the enhancement of Research and Development in the town, with the Chair describing possible options, including some form of Science and Technology Enterprise Zone in the Gunnels Wood Road area.