September 3, 2020
Companies around the North East are increasingly feeling the economic fallout from the impact of the pandemic.
Recent data shows the coronavirus crisis has caused the biggest shock to the economy, society and labour markets in living memory.
National Government has been quick to intervene and introduce measures to help business mitigate the full impact of this shock. There has been unprecedented funding support to employers in the form of grants, loans, the Job Retention Scheme and more recently for apprenticeships.
Across the region, key players in local government, education and business support organisations are collaborating to provide and offer support to regional employers, large and small. All are working closely to mitigate the expected job losses and where possible help those that are losing work.
Gateshead College is among the organisations taking a local lead, recognising that people and skills will be one of the first areas hit but also understanding they will be central to business survival and the future recovery. The current crisis is seen as an opportunity to invest in future skills.
Tapping into newly announced Government incentives, the college is already talking to employers, young people and adults about the opportunities around retraining while also retaining workers where possible.
Ivan Jepson, director of business development at Gateshead College, says: “Coming out of lockdown and with the tapering down of the furlough scheme, we will start to see the real impact of the economic shock across this region. We already know that many companies are tightening their focus and battling to simply survive.
“The immediate thought for many is not to take on more staff or apprentices. We accept that, but we want businesses to realise we’re here for them; we can still provide a guiding hand and provide a confidential sounding board to listen to their problems around staff and skills.
“These are unprecedented times and organisations such as Gateshead College have to respond differently; we have always been flexible and empathetic to the changing needs of our local employers and our agility will be tested like never before in the coming months.”
The college itself has already shown resilience and an ability to adapt to the dramatically different working environment throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. During lockdown, the college had to furlough staff while quickly moving many of its courses and learning online to ensure there was support for apprentices.
While some apprentices paused their courses and took a break in learning, there were still high levels of engagement for many apprentices in engineering, construction and IT.
Even during lockdown Gateshead College continued to work and support individual employers along with certain sectors of the economy, some of whom are expanding during the crisis. For instance, Atom Bank has continued to sign up apprentices during this period.
At the same time, the college recently won a contract to support A&P Tyne recruit new talent into its workforce, training apprentices to develop skills in engineering, fabrication and welding.
It is widely recognised that during economic downturns, it tends to be young people and adults with lower qualifications that suffer the worst. In the North East, where retail, hospitality and leisure are such big employment sectors, the college and other partners are putting a lot of their effort into supporting these areas.
“Employers want greater flexibility and to partner with organisations who understand their situation. The feedback we’re hearing is there will be a need for shorter training programmes and interventions,” Ivan continues.
“Gateshead College has a proven track record of creating very bespoke programmes for the needs of individual companies and business sectors like construction and engineering. We’re here to help companies with their changing needs whether that’s help with recruitment or reshaping the current skills mix.”
Incentives have been made available for employers recruiting apprentices between August 1, 2020, and January 31, 2021. For businesses taking on an apprentice aged 16 to 24 there is an incentive of £2000, paid in two equal amounts over 12 months. For apprentices aged 25 or over, there is a £1500 incentive to recruit.
Gateshead College and the wider FE sector is encouraging the Government to plan for a skills-led recovery, using the next 12 months to implement policies to rebuild labour markets and the wider economy.