18th January 2016

Big ideas to change the path of the Northern Powerhouse


Guest blog: Jonathan Guest, senior economist at Atkins Global, gives us his views on what our region needs to get right to make the Northern Powerhouse a success.

The Northern Powerhouse initiative has the potential to change the economic path of the North of England. It also has the potential to be a lot of rhetoric which does not go anywhere. At the moment the Government’s agenda is heavily transport led. There are also a series of exciting developments in other areas across the North of England including plans for regeneration of city and town centres, devolution allowing locally led decision making, and new ways of supplying power to business and communities. All these can help unlock economic growth across the North of England.

Working in economic development I am always pleased to see new attempts to improve the economies, lives and prospects of those from communities across the UK. Many previous approaches have not delivered the scale of change required. To change the path of the North’s economy I think we need some big ideas which are implemented in full.

I have a series of ideas which I would like to propose which I believe could change the path of the North of England’s economy, society and environment.I explain one idea below (with more to follow) and am happy to hear thoughts and counter arguments to each. Please comment or get in touch.

Idea 1: 5 hours a week of careers advice for high school students
My first ‘big idea’ is that high school students are offered 5 hours of careers advice a week, delivered by businesses or professional institutions. This is a huge amount of time for careers advice given the competing priorities for students. However, careers advice, information and guidance can contribute to several key aspects of young people’s lives and the economy in general.

Increased time for focused careers advice could make a real change to:

  • Raising Aspiration – More business led careers advice could broaden horizons, as well as deepen knowledge and understanding of possible job and training opportunities. It could boost self-esteem, confidence and self-awareness of their own strengths and qualities.
  • Skills Shortages – There is critical shortage of engineers in the UK, including across the North of England. This is a serious situation where skills shortages as well as demographic factors (e.g. ageing workforce) could exacerbate delays and rising costs in large infrastructure projects.
  • Supporting Social Mobility – It is calculated that 1 in 3 children are affected by poverty in some areas of the North. Providing information on potential careers and routes into them can provide young people with more knowledge about potential future jobs and give them confidence to seek employment in different areas.

Not all young adults have a career in mind when they are in high school or college. Many do not decide on a career until they are in the world of work, after which time it becomes too expensive or time intensive to retrain. Providing young people with more information on potential careers provides individuals with better information to make decisions. This in turn can benefit the economy. Better supply of skills and matching of demand with skills in the labour market could be worth a reported £10.6 billion to the economy annually. Furthermore increased careers advice could also offer other benefits including more rounded education, fostering strong links between businesses and schools, supporting the apprenticeship agenda and reducing public expenditure on infrastructure.

About Jonathan

Jonathan is a Senior Economist at Atkins – one of the world’s most respected design, engineering and project management consultancies – and leads on work connected to labour market and skills policy, economic development and transport connectivity. He sits on the Institute of Directors’ Skills Group, which is chaired by Tangerine’s Sandy Lindsay MBE.