County geared for education shake-up

EXCLUSIVEBy Rebecca SheppardFURTHER education in Suffolk is facing its biggest shake-up in an effort to stop the “brain drain” of young people from the county.

EXCLUSIVE

By Rebecca Sheppard

FURTHER education in Suffolk is facing its biggest shake-up in an effort to stop the “brain drain” of young people from the county.

Education bosses will launch tomorrow an 18-month inquiry that could have major consequences for sixth-forms and colleges, as well as apprenticeships and adult learning courses.

Employers and education leaders are concerned at the increasing number of young people leaving Suffolk, starving the county of skilled and qualified workers.

As well as changes to the further education system, the review is also likely to point to a lack of higher education facilities - fuelling calls for a university in Suffolk.

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Nick Foster, executive director of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) in Suffolk, which is conducting the assessment, said: “We have 25% of young people finish their education before the age of 18.

“This is actually around the national average, but there is a loss of people before their 18th birthday. This is affecting the skills and economy in the county.

“We have got to try to understand why it is happening and put in measures to stop that happening so that more people stay in education until they are 18 and longer.”

Mr Foster said people were “put off” by the fact there was no university in Suffolk where they could continue their education.

That meant people aged between 20 and 29 in particular were leaving the county and not coming back, having an adverse effect on the workforce and the number of companies choosing to locate in Suffolk.

The Strategic Area Review will ensure the LSC is spending its £78million budget for Suffolk in the best way.

Mr Foster said the exercise could highlight improvements that needed to be made to buildings, equipment, the capability of staff, access or the range of courses on offer.

The results of the analysis will be published and implemented in spring 2005 and an ongoing review of post-16 education in the county will continue after that.

To launch the review, the LSC in Suffolk is visiting three major employers in the county to hear their opinions and determine what skills they were looking for in their workforce.

BT Exact in Ipswich, Unilever Ice Cream and Frozen Food in Lowestoft and Greene King in Bury St Edmunds will outline if there are any gaps in the education and skills that prevent them from recruiting locally.

Stewart Davies, chief executive officer of BT Exact, said: “If you take an analysis of most of the professional engineers in Adastral Park and other areas of Ipswich and Felixstowe, you find that they have a degree level education and have moved in from another area.

“We have had to recruit from far and wide, from all the universities in the UK and increasingly from the continent, so we have graduates from France, Portugal and Spain.”

He added over the years more people were coming in from the modern apprenticeship schemes and BT Exact then encouraged them to go to college to do further education courses.

Mr Davies said companies, and particularly hi-tech businesses, may not locate in Suffolk as there was not a high-calibre workforce.

“A lot of people in Suffolk have got the ability to undertake degree level education, but they are not motivated to leave the area, for whatever reason, and are discouraged by the cost of education,” he added.

Hazel Enright, a human resources manager for Unilever Ice Cream and Frozen Food, said it was focused on providing further education and developing its employees.

The company commits 3% of all working hours to training, which equates to six days every year per employee.

More than 140 people received externally accredited awards last year and in January a learndirect further education centre was set up on the site, offering 175 courses from gardening to CV writing over the Internet.

Graham Cooke, factory general manager, said: “I am passionate about the need for a workforce with a strong and growing knowledge base.

“People are our greatest asset and we aim to offer the opportunity for everyone to develop themselves to their greatest potential.”

rebecca.sheppard@eadt.co.uk

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