As business leaders grapple with the challenges presented by the pandemic, the need to keep an eye on the future and how to attract new talent to your organisation has been underlined by a recent Business South seminar.

Experts from education and business led the conversation focussing on the next generation of workers and leaders.

Chaired by Rosemary French OBE, the panel comprised Frances Rutter CEO and Principal of North East Surrey College of Technology; Jamie Mackay, Skills Strategy Manager for Enterprise M3 LEP; Professor Max Lu President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey and Kate Lester, founder and CEO of diamond logistics.

As well as insights from the speakers, the online seminar drew interesting survey responses from business leaders during the debate. 

Wellbeing will be the biggest challenge for businesses as they tackle a new hybrid way of working from home and the office, they said.

And a second survey question highlighted the need for great clarity of how businesses can work more closely with colleges and universities.

Kate Lester said it was important for businesses to understand the new qualifications being studied by young people and what they will mean for businesses.

She favoured degree apprenticeships where a student combines the workplace with the classroom, studying for five years to gain a degree.

“As the UK charts a path out of the pandemic, we are looking to the next generation – young people will be our future,” she said.

Business South Director Andy Swift said: “ For those young people who have recently entered the workforce, or are poised to do so, it is an uncertain time. 

“Coming off the back of the deepest recession in more than 300 years, getting on the job ladder looks precarious. 

“During the global financial crisis in 2008-09 it took six years longer for young people to have their wages recover to their preceding cohorts. 

“University graduates disproportionately found themselves in non-graduate jobs even many years after those recessions had ended.

“One of the many economic challenges over the coming months is to ensure that the COVID19 generation do not face similar long term negative impacts,” he said.

The Government’s Kick Start Scheme, Lifetime Skills Guarantee and apprenticeships are aimed at addressing these challenges and Workforce South, the Business South Action group is keen to explore how businesses and education can work more closely.

Business leaders were able to engage directly with Business South Education Champions recently to find out more about how they can influence the curriculum and unlock funding to help with developing a higher skilled workforce and levelling up. 

The education landscape is a tricky one for businesses to navigate due to the complexity of the various funding options that are available and types of courses people can do in order to develop higher skills or the right skills for employment. 

Chair of Workforce South, Zoe Huggins, said: ”Training and education will be vital in supporting businesses adapt and bounce back after the pandemic, the investment in our workforce provides for a culture of innovation and adaptability as well as valuing and creating worth. It creates and supports social mobility and opportunities across our region, as well as diversifying our workforce to meet the changing needs of our economy. 

“The link between Business and education providers  promises to build a strong  path to a thriving Central South economy with the Business South Education Champions being pivotal in enabling businesses and its people flourish.”