County's ageing population is bad for business

Ian Mean
Director of Business West Gloucestershire | Business West
26th January 2018

This year has opened with some Gloucestershire companies deciding to throw off the confusion of Brexit and make the badly needed investments in their businesses that they had put on hold.

After the initial Brexit agreement in December that negotiations would now go to the next stage, I believe several companies have decided to take the plunge.

The have been buoyed up by the cushion of the lower pound giving a welcome profits boost to those in manufacturing, particularly, who have a thriving export business already.

The stock market reaching record levels has also helped confidence and some of these businesses realised they must make investments in order to remain competitive.

However, investment in skills is still possibly the biggest issue facing business in Gloucestershire, a county where the jet engine was born and where specialist engineering has always been core to the county’s economy.

Companies are happy to invest in skills but they just cannot get the right people in numbers. It really is a serious situation for our economy, and as a result, the Local Enterprise Partnership and the county council, have just set up a Skills Board. Not before time, I might add.

Every year, we need something like 13,000 new people to take existing Gloucestershire jobs to replace those leaving through retirement or other reasons.

That is a staggering 130,000 new workers needed in ten years.

A good year of economic growth in Gloucestershire creates between 5000-10,000 new jobs. But where are the people going to come from?

The figures say the county might need over 20,000 new workers for a good growth year. Can Gloucestershire grow economically without a working age population to fill the jobs?

We have something like 20,000 people moving into the county and around 18,000 people moving out.  

Gloucestershire is a net importer of older people but so many of our young people are trained here and then move away - a lot because they simply cannot afford the price of property.

We simply have to have more young professionals training and settling here to drive the local economy because Gloucestershire is rapidly becoming a county of old people.

So, the whole issue of skills and upskilling the current workforce is a huge challenge for 2018. Taken that the Skills Board has been set up, I would still like to see a lot more resource and energy with government help put into this vital area.

Over the coming year, we must start to ensure that more of our young people are studying the STEM subjects-science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

STEM studies are the focus of the newly opened £15 million Berkeley Green Campus on the site of the old decommissioned nuclear power station.

It is here that young people from the age of fourteen will be able to study to be the engineers and cyber specialists of the future. It is an amazing place and well worth visiting.

The schools are going to have to play a far more active role in encouraging young people to look for a future in skills like engineering, cyber and construction - girls as well as boys. 

Many heads are far too quick to encourage young people into the sixth form and possible university entrance when the student is probably not even suited to that route.

And careers advice in schools is often so very poor that the students themselves, and their parents, are completely oblivious to the advantages of apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships.

I believe that the advancement of skills in the county will be much enhanced by the opening of the University of Gloucestershire’s new Business School on their Oxstalls, Gloucester, campus in September.

For the last 12 years, I have campaigned on apprenticeships in Gloucestershire so I am pleased to see that the new Business School will be offering a wide selection of degree apprenticeships allowing young people to do a paid job and also study for their higher qualifications.

This is the way to encourage young people to train for the future prosperity of the county and also encourages them to build a home here.

This year will hopefully see work starting on the county’s new Cyber Park on a 45-hectare site near GCHQ.

Hats off to Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk who has driven this project to get government support and to GFirst LEP for securing £22million for the site from Whitehall.

We have a world-leading intelligence operation in GCHQ, and the new park will give us the opportunity to develop Cheltenham as the country’s cyber skills centre.

I believe Gloucestershire will continue to paddle its own innovative business canoe during 2018, but it would be helpful if the government did show leadership to business with an industrial strategy that made sense and was not drowned in the Brexit bubble.

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