Making a Difference
The challenges around rebuilding the economy are huge post Covid, says Jennifer Halliday.
As we emerge from COVID-19 the challenges around rebuilding the economy are undoubtedly huge. Yet here in the North West I certainly detect growing optimism about the region’s future.
Why? Because there is a real acknowledgement of the productivity challenge, a genuine desire to focus on education, skills and wellbeing, a real imperative to level up, and an emerging debate about digitalisation and the move to net zero.
So there could be a very exciting decade ahead of us. But if we are to be successful what will this region and the rest of the UK really look and feel like in ten years' time?
As Chair of the North West Productivity Forum at The Productivity Institute, based here at Alliance MBS, I have come to understand how much activity is taking place in the region about preparing for the future.
The Institute is focused on what topics to research to provide solid, tangible outputs which can inform government policy and support business transformation, because at its core productivity is all about how to increase the output derived from hours worked so that it translates into higher living standards and better wellbeing.
There is no shortage of ideas about how to achieve this, but the question is what can really make a difference. In order to judge this I believe we need to imagine the North West in a decade’s time in order to focus on what really needs to change now.
If we are to be successful what will this region and the rest of the UK really look like in ten years' time?
So what would be on my wish list? Reform of education is certainly one area. For instance I would like to see children in our schools not just focused on the output of an exam to come, but being continuous learners who are creative, engaged, happy and dreaming big about their futures. I would also like to see most 18-year-olds keen to stay in this region because there are plenty of opportunities available to them and they have the qualifications that businesses need.
Likewise an adult workforce which is healthy, energetic and engaged with work, and which also receives appropriate care when needed, would be high up my list.
We also need leaders of our small and medium sized companies to be focused on empowerment and growth, not on micro management. And we need companies to be taking advantage of new flexible working arrangements to attract the best talent from across the globe.
Businesses also need to be highly automated and have eliminated basic manual processes completely. They also need to be hiring more highly paid and skilled employees from all backgrounds, while also undertaking large scale initiatives which help them reduce their carbon footprint.
It would also be wonderful to be able to say that a large number of FTSE 100 and 250 companies have their headquarters in this region because of the availability of skilled workers. Indeed entrepreneurs are already attracted to the region because of readily available capital and a creative workforce, while we also have good transport links with London and the South East.
Health and wellbeing
There is much more that we can still do in other areas. For instance one is around improving health and wellbeing which, by definition, will lead to a higher level of engagement with work. Strong wellbeing in children also leads to wellbeing in adults and a direct link to productivity.
But perhaps the most important theme of all is around building skills, engagement, creativity and a can-do attitude which will shape the culture of the region to come. Indeed the skills needed are not just the hard skills, but more importantly the soft skills - namely how to present, influence and work with people and teams to generate output.
So many great initiatives are already in play. For instance #BeeWell aims to trigger a national step change in education, starting in Greater Manchester, which rebalances the focus on educational outcomes and underscores the complementarity of wellbeing and academic attainment.
It is already engaging with more than 250 secondary schools and inspiring a coalition of some 50 organisations to make a positive difference to the wellbeing of young people across the city region. We must continue to join the dots like this around productivity and to support the initiatives already in play. We all need to continue working hard to making our vision of the future a reality.