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Skills agenda in the spotlight at SEMLEP AGM

Speaking at the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership AGM and networking event, Open University vice-chancellor Peter Horrocks spoke about the recent Spending Review and its impact on skills and businesses.

He said: “We are the largest university in the UK and we were pleased in Autumn Statement to see the government addressing the decline in part-time learning, largely caused by cost of fees and lack of loans.

"So, maintenance loans will be available for part-time students and for second degrees and these will play a significant part in enabling people to upskill themselves.

“We were also pleased that the cuts to further education were not as severe as they might have been and we are working closely with government on the new apprenticeship levy, which will see large employers paying a 0.5% payroll contribution. T

"his is a policy which shows the government is committed to skills improvements and will provide a source of funds that many businesses can benefit from.”

Dr Stella Peace, vice president refreshment discover at Unilever and the leader of the global giant’s Colworth site in Bedfordshire, outlined the challenges facing the organisation and its 174,000 employees.

She said:  “Making sure they have the right skills as the world changes is key to us. In the next 40 years we will need as much food as we did in the last 8,000. Food prices will rise by 40% and so will expectations.

“Amazingly over 170,000 workers will have retired. Where are those skills coming from? We need to act on this now or we will have a skills shortage.”

More than 100 businesses from across the South East Midlands attended SEMLEP’s AGM and networking event at Rushton Hall in Northamptonshire to explore and discuss skills and productivity across the area.

Lesley Giles, deputy director of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, said: “We are encouraging stronger employer engagement, which is both customer focused and outcome driven with employees and individuals at the heart of the system.

"By achieving better alignment of strategy and investment we can ensure more and better outcomes.”

She stressed the importance of work experience and urged businesses to considering offering placements. She told guests that in South East Midlands 66% of employers stated that work experience was a critical or significant factor they considered when recruiting.

However, only 32% had taken on anyone on any type of work placement. This compares to 38% across the whole of the UK.