Telford College principal Graham Guest has urged the Government to get secondary schools more heavily involved in helping to shape the skills and career decisions of young people.
He was part of a delegation of business leaders to meet justice secretary and Lord Chancellor, David Gauke, who visited the Marches Growth Hub at Priorslee on a fact-finding trip.
The meeting was designed to test the temperature of the local economy as the UK edges closer towards its exit from the European Union.
Mr Guest, who was joined at the meeting by the college’s chair of governors, Paul Hinkins and business leaders from a wide range of sectors, said: “The group highlighted the need for strong leadership from the Government.
“Businesses need a confidence boost in these uncertain times, and the feeling around the table was that it’s the Government which needs to take the lead in providing it.”
With unemployment running well below the national average in Shropshire, much of the debate centred around the need to equip the economy with the skills to grow and thrive.
Mr Guest highlighted the way in which Telford College had reinvented the curriculum at its Haybridge campus for the new academic year to respond to the needs of local businesses, with a focus on filling skills gaps in areas like construction.
This includes the launch of the trailblazing new 7th Form which blends traditional academic A Levels with vocational qualifications, and links to mentors from local companies.
Mr Guest told the Lord Chancellor that the Government should ‘bring schools to the table’ and give them more freedom to become involved in supporting young people to discover the growing range of skills, careers, and employment pathways.
“The comments were warmly received – and the group suggested that there should be a change in Government policy to this effect.
“On the whole, I thought it was a very positive meeting, with a full and frank exchange of views covering many topics.
“I hope Mr Gauke came away viewing Telford as a dynamic town which is brimming with ideas, entrepreneurial spirit – and a willingness to think outside the box when it comes to problem-solving.”
Speaking directly after the meeting, Mr Gauke said: “What came across very strongly is that, with leaving the EU, we have to ensure that we properly train up our own people.
“We need to make sure that if there are particular roles which need to be filled, we have an approach which is flexible enough to make sure this can be done.
“What’s striking about the Marches is that you have got very low levels of unemployment, and there are shortages and vacancies – we need to find the right people to fill these vacancies.”