Essex has a key role to play in bridging the skills gap for future generations due to its location at the heart of the London-Stansted-Cambridge UK Innovation Corridor (UKIC). Sandwiched between the City of London and Cambridge, Essex has a high concentration of world-class bioscience and high-tech businesses, responsible for more patents per capita than Silicon Valley.

Nearly one in seven UK jobs lies within 10km of the Corridor and its workforce of 1.8m people currently delivers productivity which is 16% higher than the UK average. However, more developments are going ahead with the regeneration of Harlow primed as one the most exciting centres for growth over the coming years.

Since 2016 the proportion of high-skilled jobs has risen in Harlow from 35.1% to 37.6% but only 22.8% of residents are qualified to Level 4 or above. With all the developments planned for the next few years, this is a skills gap that needs addressing along with apprenticeships. The number of apprenticeships has stagnated in recent years but are now being tackled by businesses.

Developing skills and knowledge in Essex

Public Health England (PHE) are in the process of creating a world-leading campus of excellence for public health research, improvement and protection, and a new headquarters, in Harlow. Work is now underway on phased occupation beginning in late 2021 with new campus, named PHE Harlow.

PHE Harlow will be expected to bring together around 2,750 staff from the Department of Health agency’s current sites, including Porton in Wiltshire, Colindale in north London, and its current central London headquarters by 2024.

In October 2018, PHE signed an agreement with Harlow College to develop a strategic partnership to explore opportunities for students to work and be trained at their new campus.

Highly skilled workforces

UKIC’s Regional Skills Concordat – a collaborative response to the Growth Commission Report by the further education and skills sector – cites the importance of employer-led Institutes of Technology as a key driver in developing highly-skilled workforces.

Harlow College have collaborated with London Stansted Airport to establish Stansted Airport College which will play a key role in bridging the skills gap among local residents. Stansted Airport College is the first purpose-built on-site college at a major UK airport. It runs courses for prospective careers in aviation operations and cabin crew; engineering and aircraft maintenance; hospitality and events management. The College’s first intake of 300 students graduated in July 2019.

Harlow Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Centre (HAMEC) is a further major investment initiative for Harlow (£11m), set up to inspire and train the next generation of engineers. Harlow is also the site for one of only two Canadian universities to have a foothold in the UK, the Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN).

Other developments include Harlow Science Park – a 27-acre world-class research and innovation site – scheduled for completion late summer 2019 with the initial phase of construction focusing on a business innovation centre for Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and part-funded by Essex County Council.

ARU was named in the top 150 universities in the world for health education in November 2018, having opened their School of Medicine two months prior. ARU’s School of Medicine is Britain’s newest medical school and the first to open in Essex.

Vibrant SME base

Whilst this investment led, collaborative approach between business, colleges and universities is a positive step and aims to bridge the skills gaps for future generations and assist in the redevelopment of the towns, there is also awareness that Essex has a strong and vibrant SME base that should not be overlooked in terms of future employment opportunities for the talent pool being harvested.

Latest figures suggest that over 90% of around 90,000 businesses in Essex are SMEs, with the vast majority having less than 10 employees. Ross Chaplin, the current Skills Ambassador for the Institute of Directors in Essex, believes that significant importance should be placed on assisting smaller businesses to attract and retain the talent the local economy needs now and in the future.

Small business owners are facing mounting pressures, with a record proportion of business owners currently expecting to downsize, sell or shut up shop. A good investment balance needs to be struck, so that we ensure we continue to support our proud entrepreneurial track record and to fund future opportunities for small business and new business start-ups in the Region to thrive. It is great to see that collaboration between Agencies, Colleges and Universities recognises this significance and are reacting positively towards it.

Ross Chaplin
Skills Ambassador
Institute of Directors East of England

This article appeared in the 2019 summer special edition of Prospect Magazine.

Find out more about the life sciences healthcare sector in Essex here.

See here to find out more about London Stansted Airport.