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More to aspire to in the future

The new LSC regional director aims to raise employment ambitions in the North-east. Joe Clancy reports

Fact: the north-east of England has the lowest proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds in full-time education in the country.

Fact: a person born in the north-east is likely to achieve fewer qualifications, earn less, and have a shorter life than someone born in the South-east.

Fact: manufacturing productivity has fallen behind the UK average, and research has rated the North-east as the least competitive of all the UK regions.

Documents containing these statistics sit on top of the pile of paperwork in the in-tray of Chris Roberts as he settles into his new role as the Learning and Skill Council's regional director.

And these are the issues to which he will be giving top priority as he takes on the overall responsibility for leading the four districts that make up the new LSC region.

"A lot of research has shown that young people in the North-east do not aspire to obtaining good-quality employment," he says. "They have a lack of understanding of the job opportunities that are out there for them.

"Too many young people do not consider the benefit of education and training, and that to obtain worthwhile employment they need qualifications. We have to convince them that dropping out at 14 isn't an option anymore."

That is why he plans to play a central role in the development of the Aspire campaign, a five-year project due to be launched in the spring in partnership with other regional stakeholders such as the Confederation of British Industry and the Chamber of Commerce.

The vision for Aspire is "to help more young people find the jobs they want in the North-east by motivating them to work hard and gain appropriate skills and qualifications - enabling more local employers to attract the people they need."

The low-aspirations culture has developed, says Mr Roberts, because of the boom-and-bust nature of the local economy, particularly with fluctuating employment in local heavy industries.

"We are trying to convince young people that with orders coming through for the North-east, they do have long-term job prospects," he adds.

The Aspire campaign asserts that, because many young people have grown up in an environment where two or three generations of their families have been unemployed, they have negative perceptions of the regional economy that are now out of date.

The demand for labour has grown steadily in the past decade and is forecast to continue to grow across a broad range of key sectors. In particular, the demand for high-level skills is growing, with several key sectors reporting increased skills shortages.

Mr Roberts believes that the new structure of the LSC will enable it to speak with one voice rather than four in developing the strategy for the Aspire campaign.

While retaining his duties as executive director of LSC Tyne and Wear, the other three LSCs that make up the region - Northumberland, County Durham and Tees Valley - will also report to him.

Its key partners, such as the regional development agency One North East and Job Centre Plus, operate on a regional basis.

"There was always an issue about which office responded on behalf of the LSC," he says.

"The new structure will allow us to meet with our partners on the same level and develop our excellent relationship with them."

He adds: "Of all the regions, the North-east is the one that has the feeling of being a cohesive area. Forming a regional directorate is a natural conclusion of the work we are undertaking."

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