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Northern Powerhouse – time to talk about skills

While much of the focus of the Northern Powerhouse has been on transport infrastructure, the central role of skills in driving the regional economy must be better recognised, says Damian Grimshaw, Professor of Employment Studies. He says developing, attracting and retaining skills will be key to successful outcomes from the wider initiative.

Prof Grimshaw recently chaired a conference in Manchester organised by Inside Government which explored these issues. He was invited to speak on the back of new Alliance-funded research on JustWork in Greater Manchester which is investigating employment relationships in the creative and digital sectors, as well as the role of skills in shaping careers for different workforce groups in the city-region.

He says the conference, attended by further and higher education institutions as well as business and political leaders, gave a great impression of what the different city regions across the north are doing to forge new collaborations in terms of the skills agenda.

“By putting skills at the core of the north’s growing ambitions there is a better chance that we can secure distributed growth. The debate repeatedly touched on the fast-changing policy context such as the new apprenticeship levy, degree apprenticeships and Higher Education White Paper, all against the backdrop of continued fiscal retrenchment.”

Prof Grimshaw said there was still a need to address long-standing challenges. “These include re-engaging young people who are not in education, employment or training, improving female representation in digital jobs, widening higher education access, and connecting skills with innovation in new models of work. During the conference there were some inspiring presentations from educationalists who understand the full complexity of this changing eco-system of skills.”