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Essential skills to fuel North East Businesses

Prominent North East businesses, including Newcastle Airport and Newcastle College, have come together to champion the development of essential skills in the region.

This ambitious vision aims to transform Newcastle into a hub of essential skills excellence, addressing critical regional challenges outlined in the Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP),  for County Durham, Sunderland, Gateshead, and South Tyneside. The plans are part of the government’s strategy for skills to provide an agreed set of actionable priorities that employers, providers and other stakeholders in a local area can get behind to drive change. The North East LSIPs highlight that the region experiences:

  • Life expectancy below the UK average for men and women
  • High levels of economic inactivity
  • A high proportion of children eligible for Free School Meals (28.5% versus national average of 22.5%)
  • The highest rate of child poverty in the country (38%) (North East Child Poverty Commission, 2023). 

To address these challenges, the regional event held at Newcastle-based tech consultancy Opencast aimed to build a collaborative effort to focus on developing transferable "soft skills" such as problem-solving, creativity, teamwork, and listening. The Skills Builder Partnership, a global leader in essential skills development, is at the centre of the movement, with its Universal Framework providing a proven roadmap for building these essential skills in various contexts.

Voices from regional players Opencast and Newcastle College shared their practical insights of how investing in essential skills boosts recruitment, promotions, and overall workforce performance, as well as careers aspirations and destinations. 

Jill McKinney, Director of Dynamo North East & Sunderland Software City, said: “Collaboration and partnership in the North East become the driving forces for prosperity among both young minds and adults. The collaboration with other regional organisations within the structure of the Skills Builder partnership and empowered by essential skills, paves the way for a brighter, more prosperous future for all.”

Opencast Chief People Officer, Cate Kalson, said: “Using the Skills Builder methodology at Opencast has been a game-changer for us. It supports us to be evidence-based in how we support our employees' development, as well as ensuring that our recruitment processes are inclusive and we make a difference in the outreach work that we do to bring more people from the region into the technology sector. 

“I am really inspired by the collective commitment to collaborating across education, regional government, youth charities, funders and companies to make a difference. We can all have greater impact if we work together and use a common language of skills, and if we use a robust framework to measure our impact.

Bella Audsley, Development Manager, Skills Builder Partnership said: “Essential skills are fundamental for success. We're thrilled to collaborate with this forward-thinking group to implement our proven Framework and empower the North East to build essential skills across a variety of contexts.”

Ronnie Burn, Head of Careers Education and Student Progress, Newcastle College said: “As a college, we are committed to providing our learners with the skills they need to progress and succeed in their future, and that includes these recognised essential skills.”

There is a growing body of evidence supporting the demand for essential skills initiatives and adoption of the Universal Framework across all contexts:

  • 97% of teachers and 88% of young people say that essential skills are at least as important as academic achievement for future success (The Sutton Trust)
  • Individuals with higher essential skill levels are 25-50% less likely to be out of employment or education
  • The Essential Skills Tracker 2023 found 92% of UK workers believe that essential skills are important for success within their career.
  • Individuals who have opportunities to build these skills in education have higher skill levels
  • Higher levels of the eight essential skills lead to higher skilled, higher paid jobs – with a wage premium of up to £4,600 per year, up to 12% more than their peers
  • Young people see the value of essential skills across key aspects of their lives for transition, including academic performance (78%), university entrance (66%), successful recruitment (91%), progression in employment (91%), and overcoming wider life challenges (89%)
  • They are as strong a predictor of social mobility as literacy and numeracy.

About Opencast

Opencast is an independent and privately owned full-service UK technology consultancy, specialising in designing, building and running user-centred digital and technology solutions. It works with UK public sector bodies, healthcare organisations and businesses to develop services that include support for critical national infrastructure and help for millions of citizens. Visit 

About Sunderland Software City (inc Dynamo North East)

Sunderland Software City (SSC) supports and enables the growth of the North East tech sector by helping people explore careers, start businesses and grow their organisations. We aim to strengthen the region’s economy by helping individual companies to grow, create jobs and attract investment and through collaboration with partners across the UK. Learn more at: