What does levelling up mean for manufacturers and young people in the Midlands

Daniel Nikolla

Daniel Nikolla

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I recently attended a conference in Leicester focused on the role of the manufacturers in the Levelling-Up. Through this short piece, I’m sharing my thoughts on what the event means for manufacturers and young people in the region.

The events brought together by Morningside Pharmaceuticals, Midlands Engine, Make UK, East Midlands Chamber of Commerce and Centre for Social Justice really helped me grasp levelling up better. Moreover, It made me think about what this means for young people in our region. Like many young professionals, levelling-up wasn’t a familiar term to me prior.

As attendees were expected to share their thoughts on the topic, I naturally did some preparation.

My first question to myself was: What is levelling up?

Levelling up was also mentioned in the Queen’s speech who said that ‘’the government would level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom’’. In simple terms, a wide variety of measures (employment rates, pay, health and formal education) indicate that there is a big inequality between the different regions in the UK. 

In addition, there seems to be a broad agreement that the central issue is the difference in productivity levels between the regions, explained as the amount of gross value added, GVA, per hour worked.

What does levelling up mean for young people?

Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that the midlands fall way behind London and South (see figures 1 & 2 below), which means that our region eventually loses young talent willing to migrate to ‘’better’’ regions. GVA rate for the East Midlands stands only 9th out of 12 regions, just above NI, Wales and Yorkshire. Figure 2 shows that the midlands are the worst in the country regarding spending on R&D. To me, that means that the local government and education institutions need to step up R&D investment which will then lead to an improvement to GVA and other measures. 

Productivity across the UK | Ownership of BBC | Hardy Signs Ltd
Figure 1. Productivity (GVA) across the UK.
Productivity across the UK | Ownership of BBC | Hardy Signs Ltd 1
Figure 2. Spending on R&D by region.

On the positive side, during 2021 the government announced an extra £111 to fund work placements and training for 16 to 24-year-olds in England. With covid proving a barrier to apprenticeships and young people development, the government added incentives for companies taking apprentices. I also know that there are many initiatives in the midlands that are working hard to reach out to the most disadvantaged and close the gap with other regions.

As a young professional based in the midlands and a board member of Generation Next, I think that our organisations should be prioritising levelling-up. We could do this by raising awareness and influencing change in our members and so on.

A key element that was emphasised in the event I attended was the development of partnerships between education and the private sector. For example, in 2016 Hardy Signs founded a ‘Sign and Print’ academy in partnership with Burton and South Derbyshire College. This project has helped the company and the college to strengthen the provision for the students; create at least 10 jobs for 10 work-ready sign makers and provide a wealth of opportunities for students of textile, design and other courses. The professional training and the hands-on experience has resulted in better soft skills and eventually higher productivity levels.

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