Chamber Chat with Wes Johnson
First Steps to Freedom…?
Local education institutions took the first step along the roadmap out of lockdown during the week commencing 8th March. I’m sure few would argue that a key priority was to ensure that all children and students return safely to face-to-face education in schools and colleges as soon as possible, recognising the huge impact of the past 12 months on our district’s young people.
So, whilst the sports halls of many schools and colleges now resemble field hospitals, delivering hundreds of rapid flow Covid tests every day, the joy of returning to campus is palpable for our students. Access to face-to-face education is much more than just delivering qualifications, wider learning is equally important in supporting our community to recover - social interaction, supporting mental health and wellbeing, friendships, exercise and having fun are critical.
Local businesses look forward to see restrictions start to lift along the government’s four-step roadmap to more freedoms and economic recovery, aware of those crucial ‘earliest dates’ for their own business sectors. As soon as the opportunities allow I feel it’s really important that business and education work closely together to co-create opportunities for our young people to experience the world of work. Collectively we must ensure that our young people have the opportunity to experience what work both ‘looks and feels like’, developing their skills and behaviours alongside their knowledge. To ensure that the future graduates of our local schools, colleges and universities are ‘work ready’ we have a ‘pandemic deficit’ to address through a combination of meaningful work experience, traineeships, apprenticeships and internships.
Alongside a focus on ‘work ready’ young people, I feel education and business can collectively make a significant difference for adults in our local community. We know that Universal Credit claimants have increased, whilst many still remained furloughed across our district. Together we can start to address the pandemic’s threat to job stability, providing an opportunity through fully funded and proactive training, utilising government incentives (such as Kickstart) and targeted support to aid an individual’s journey back into secure employment, whilst supporting our local businesses to recover.
Whilst many uncertainties remain in terms of future freedoms, I am sure that the community of the Lancaster and Morecambe district will pull together to make sure none are left behind. Collectively we can support the development of resilient post-covid businesses of the future, crucially underpinned with workforces ‘ready for the future’.
Wes Johnson is Principal at Lancaster & Morecambe College, and is also a Director of the Chamber. The College are also Chamber Ambassador members.