On Wednesday 6th June, I spoke to local businesses at the Hull and Humber Chamber Expo
Good afternoon everyone, and thank you Sally for your kind introduction.
I’m honoured to be invited here today to celebrate the launch of this year’s Hull & Humber Chamber Expo at, what I believe, is a very exciting time for our region.
The developments and inward investment we’ve had over the past few years is an impressive vote of confidence by business and shows that Hull and Humberside has the potential for even greater success.
We have seen significant investment by Oersted.
The Philip 66 oil refinery is making great moves towards encouraging more women and girls into engineering apprenticeships and careers.
British Steel has made an excellent bid to be one of the Logistic Hubs for delivering a third Heathrow Airport runway.
Following Parliament’s passing of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, Vivergo Fuels has restarted bioethanol production for use as a renewable fuel in transport.
Hopefully the Government will roll out E10 soon – ensuring that 10% of our petrol is made from bioethanol – which will not only lend a valuable boost to our local economy – but could significantly reduce CO2 emission levels equivalent to taking 700,000 cars off the road.
Siemens are aiming to complete a £200m train factory in Goole, employing up to 700 skilled engineering and manufacturing roles.
This is on top of their joint investment with ADP of £310m producing state-of-the-art wind turbine blades right here in Hull, supporting more than 1,000 jobs.
It’s helped establish the Humber estuary as a world leading centre of excellence for offshore wind technology, and has cemented our position as the heart of the UK’s offshore wind industry.
With a report commission by the University of Hull projecting that UK offshore wind jobs could reach 21,000 by 2032, and supporting 60,000 across the UK, there is no reason why these jobs shouldn’t be concentrated right here by the Humber.
As you can see we are putting ourselves on the map as the place to be for green technologies, for energy and for engineering, to name just a few key sectors.
And of course, there are many other businesses and sectors with their own organic successes to celebrate, or future investments in the pipeline, or plans for expansion.
So while it’s clear there are real challenges for local business that we need to work on, I really do think that this is an exciting time for our region and its economic prosperity.
And by linking with other local businesses, local Councils, the LEPs, the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, the University, local schools and colleges we can continue to nurture this business ecosystem that we – you - have cultivated.
You are creating new, dynamic projects - bringing innovation, jobs and pride to the area.
So we must act to ensure we have the best quality workforce to see them through.
Maximising the benefits for local people and our communities.
Back in 2012, the Humber LEP Skills Commission I chaired found that across engineering there was a real replacement skills challenge as people retire.
The same is true across other crucial sectors like health and care, where demand is only going to increase.
Figures provided by the Regional Economic Intelligence Unit show that by 2020, there will be over 32,000 workers across a range of sectors in Humberside that will need to be replaced.
And this figure is just to maintain the status quo.
It doesn’t take it account the many more skilled workers we will need to continue to grow and develop our region.
Employers still say that a lack of literacy and numeracy is creating barriers to jobs among young people.
And employers are concerned by a lack of communication and teamwork skills.
To compound this further traditional manufacturing and logistics jobs are simply not attracting enough young people to begin with.
So what are the solutions?
How do we develop the skills of the current and future workforce? And how do we attract people into sectors struggling to get the talent they need?
One novel route for transferring skills can come through staged retirement schemes, such as those initiated by Clugston or British Steel.
These approaches allow employees more flexibility as they look towards the end of their careers, so that they impart their knowledge and skills to those in the early stages of their career.
It is great a way of sustaining and retaining skills into the future, while offering benefits to both older and new employees.
To develop the skills of the current and future workforce we need to make the current landscape work for us – even things that can be annoying, like the apprenticeship levy.
It’s just celebrated its damp squib of a first birthday amid headlines of falling numbers of apprenticeships, and the difficulties that some employers have found in getting through the bureaucracy in order to make apprentice schemes work for them.
It is taking too long for apprenticeship standards to be put in place in some sectors.
For example when I visited Jack Tighe - based in Scunthorpe with the country’s largest industrial painting facility, they told me about their industry’s frustrating experience in getting an Industrial Coatings Applicator Apprenticeship into place.
Many people in this room will have similar experiences and similar frustrations.
But the solutions to these frustrations are more likely to lie in this room than with Government.
MPs across the Humber can work together to argue with Government for the sort of flexibilities in using the levy that would support local employers.
Reviewing maximum funding, allowing employers to negotiate more appropriate payment schedules and other ideas coming from businesses on the front line like yourselves – these are the changes and improvements we can argue for.
And it wouldn’t be a business speech without a corporate plug!
In addition to introducing free, lifelong education in Further Education colleges, enabling everyone to upskill or retrain at any point in life, a Labour Party in Government would retain the apprenticeship levy, but give employers more flexibility in how the levy is deployed, including allowing the levy to be used for pre-apprenticeship programmes.
So the reality is the levy is here to stay and the people who will make it work are not Whitehall mandarins or politicians but people who understand their businesses working with people who understand training on the ground.
People like you here in this room.
Some of the best uses of the apprenticeship levy can be seen locally through partnerships such as that between British Steel and North Lindsey College, or in a myriad of small businesses and HETA.
I heard a great phrase recently about skills and the Humber that recognizes our great maritime history.
It’s time for the Humber to stop fishing for talent and go hunting for it instead.
That means we have to know what we want and go and seek it out. Part of that is being clear about our aspirations to be the global leader in offshore wind, as the offshore sector deal says.
Hull University’s Project Ora clean growth centre will open on Humber Bridgehead Park in the autumn.
And it will host the British Science Festival in September.
Look at how the City of Culture helped to lift Hull and the Humber’s profile in the world, helped to draw people to us.
When we do this with skills – for example with the Siemens or Oersted investments - we draw the skills to us.
We get the right talent that we can then invest in and grow.
The same will happen if British Steel wins a Heathrow Logistics hub on its Scunthorpe site.
Businesses need to invest in their schools and colleges so that young people get the message about what great jobs there are locally and are inspired by what the area has to offer.
We must build on and grow excellent practice.
Our high performing colleges and schools.
The world class CATCH training facility.
The opportunity of degree apprenticeships in science and engineering.
The work of JobCentrePlus and organisations like Ongo Recruitment in putting the training and preparation in place to get people off Employment and Support Allowance and into work.
As the brilliantly enthusiastic manager of Scunthorpe’s Asda branch said to me recently, she recruits on attitude and then trains on the job.
A Grimbarian leading a team in Scunthorpe full of passion, skill, energy and ideas.
That’s the outlook that will find the talent to build our better future.
A future full of promise for the Humber region.