Notts: Chamber calls for skills and employment at heart of Budget

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Guardian News
The UK’s second largest Chamber of Commerce has today urged Chancellor George Osborne to place skills and employment at the very heart of his forthcoming Budget.

Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire Chambers of Commerce (DNLCC) Group Chief Executive George Cowcher today wrote to the Treasury with the Chambers’ pre-Budget wish list.

The Chambers’ submission argues that investment in people is key to continued, sustainable growth and to positioning the UK as the world leader in promoting and developing the skills of its current and future workforce.

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The gap between the skills which businesses need and those of applicants, particularly school leavers, is a particular concern of DNLCC members.

DNLCC is calling for the development of a specific ‘Bridging the Gap’ fund to support closer ties between schools and SMEs. The proposed £91m fund – to be allocated over the next two years – would:

1) Encourage further employer interaction from those who do not typically engage with schools, especially micro-businesses and sole traders, by compensating for costs associated with taking on work experience placements. Compensation would fully/partially cover costs relating to activity including additional employers’ liability insurance costs, risk assessments, health and safety and CRB checks and administration. Proposed funding set at £150 for the first 150,000 placements = £22.5m per year

2) Provide financial incentives to support SMEs which allocate 36 hours or more over a year to the delivery of work-related learning exercises in schools, for example, CV writing, interview techniques, team building and presentational skills. An element would also be used to encourage businesses to take up governance roles in local schools. Proposed funding set at £1,000 for the first 20,000 SME businesses a year = £20m per year

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3) Provide financial support to schools where careers advisers and teachers undertake 36 hours or more over a year of continued professional development opportunities in the workplace, to ensure careers advice and curriculum development within schools matches the current and future needs of local businesses. Proposed funding set at £1,000 for 3,000 schools a year = £3m per year

The Chambers believe these measures could be funded over the next two years by reallocating a tiny fraction (1.3%) of the Government’s projected departmental under spend of £7bn from 2013-14.

The call comes on the day that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced a new package of measures aimed at boosting the employment prospects of 16-24 year olds.

In a speech earlier today, Mr Clegg unveiled plans to create a UCAS-style clearing system of college courses, apprenticeships, traineeships, work experience and job opportunities for youngsters at age 16 who don’t want to go to university, in an attempt to stop them drifting on to welfare.

He also plans to:

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Order schools to improve their careers advice provision, after Ofsted inspectors found only one in five give all of their students detailed careers support

Strip unemployed 18- to 21-year-olds of their Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) if they haven’t achieved Level 2 maths and English and refuse training after six months of unemployment

Provide work experience for 18- to 21-year-olds who have been on JSA for six months, in a pilot project aimed at building their confidence

Open Jobcentres to 16- and 17-year-olds for the first time, for advice on finding work

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Place an obligation on schools to develop closer links with local employers

Chris Hobson, the Chamber’s Head of Information and Representation, said: “Nick Clegg is absolutely right when he calls for an end to the ‘snobbery’ around vocational education, as well as highlighting the need for a greater emphasis to be placed on good quality careers advice in schools.

“The reality is that many young people don’t feel university is the choice for them and in fact flourish by taking a more vocational route. They see the benefit of undertaking a more practical option which has a clearer route into the workplace, creating a win-win for both the employee and the business.

“The Chamber has today written to the Chancellor outlining its asks ahead of the 2014 Budget in March, centring on what Government can do to support both the education and business sectors in helping young people across the gap which often exists between the two worlds.

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“As we seek to move towards a more balanced economy feedback from employers across a number of sectors highlight the problem in attracting young people into their business, robust and holistic careers advice is key to addressing this issue, and we are encouraged to see that Government is recognising this.”