When one person becomes more skilled, more educated, the whole of society benefits

You’ll have heard of fitness bootcamps, where, in exchange for an hour or two of torture, you shed a couple of pounds. But what about a skills bootcamp?  No sweat or tears involved, and instead of losing weight, you gain skills.  Employable skills to help you find work or a better paid job.  We’ve put £322k in to our first round of bootcamps.  We’re training up people for rail engineering, logistics and digital technology. 

Skills and education are drivers of economic prosperity.  Along with good physical and mental health, they create a virtuous circle.  People with money left over at the end of the month are more resilient.  Over time, they are healthier.  And kids from households with higher incomes go on to higher educational attainment.  But too many people are not in this loop – caught instead in the vicious circle of long hours, low pay, mounting debt, and increasing stress. 

We’re building an economy based on good work, with a foundation of well paid and secure green jobs.  We know everyone needs to benefit.  That’s why we’ve got a strategic skills plan in place.  No one should be stuck in unemployment or a dead-end job with blunted life opportunities. 

The North of Tyne has a devolved Adult Education Budget of £24 million a year.  In our first year we got 28,800 people enrolled in formal training courses – 70% of whom were previously unemployed. 

Because we control the fund, we have flexibility.  When central government controlled it, there was a hit-and-miss approach to what worked.  We’ve increased enrolments by over 10% on the same budget – not bad during a pandemic when buildings were closed for months at a time. 

Learning new skills can be daunting for people – especially older workers.  So we provide wrap-around support to boost new learners’ confidence.  We’re funding programmes close to the people who need support.  Catering and food hygiene training with the Cedarwood Trust in North Shields.   Language and IT skills with Action Foundation in Newcastle, who support refugees.  And Forward Assist in Dudley are helping armed forces veterans transition into civilian employment. 

But I’m battling with the Department of Education (DfE) to keep this local flexibility.  The new Skills and Post-16 Education Bill going through Parliament wants to have a central register.  So we’ll only be able to fund projects through providers who DfE have vetted – with extra costs and months of delays. 

Our local knowledge reaches people who most need support.  Our DiversityNE project, in partnership with the North East Autism Society, helps people with neurodiversity.  One-to-one employment support, in-work support, and support from peers with similar conditions is making a huge difference to people’s lives. 

Our Northern Directions programme, with Groundwork North East, helps 16-24 year olds through coaching and mentoring from a youth worker.  They develop an individual action plan to overcome what may have been a terribly difficult start in life. 

Our Get Ahead Project, with Changing Lives, helps anyone over 18 facing complex barriers to unemployment.  Everyone is different.  Some people might be homeless, or a have been through the criminal justice system.  Others might struggle with substance dependency.  In all cases this is compounded by financial exclusion – employers are unlikely to hire someone without a bank account.  One-to-one tailored support helps people get employment placements and find a route into work, bringing self-esteem and the hard cash that comes with working for a living. 

As a society we have a choice.  We can write people off, or we can help them stand on their own two feet.  I say we help people.  No one gets left behind because they’ve been dealt a poor hand by life. 

I’ve written about projects helping the most vulnerable.  But we’re helping everyone – including our £2 million Green Growth Skills fund, and our digital skills programmes for people changing careers.  Our Working Homes works with tenants in social housing, 1,425 tenants have accessed learning and skills so they can earn more.  And the £430k we’ve put into Union Learn helps people already in work get additional training and new qualifications, which benefits both them and their employers. 

When one person becomes more skilled, more educated, the whole of society benefits.  

*Originally printed in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 21st February 2022