Future50: Is it time to go back to school for the government’s Industrial Strategy?

James Leeds, CEO of Pupil Asset.

James Leeds, CEO of Pupil Asset. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

When Theresa May launched a green paper on the government's industrial strategy much was made of her stated ambition to help Britain flourish in a post-Brexit world.

The plans outlined a streamlining and shake-up of technical education to prepare young people better for the workplace, and in the PM's familiar words, create opportunities for all, and not just the privileged few.

But more interestingly within the Green Paper was a comment from business secretary Greg Clark that the strategy would not simply support the 'incumbents' but would help emerging sectors and provide a framework for as-yet-unthought-of industries to thrive.

Fine words but, while the plans are still at the consultation stage, how relevant are they?

Chris Perry, chief executive of Swarm Apprenticeships, a social enterprise and Future50 member which supports SMEs across Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, in the recruitment and training of apprentices, welcomed the focus on vocational training.

But he warned that the proposed 15 training routes outlined must not be too rigid.

'Our concern is that once a person goes down one of these routes, what happens when they get to 18 and think that it isn't for them?' he said. 'That happens more than the government knows. When you are young you do not know 100% what you are going to do. We get a lot of people who change their minds.

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'Pigeon-holing people too early may actually waste money. What we are concerned about is that we are making clones which big businesses want to recruit.

'We exist because smaller businesses want more complete people who can do a bit of everything. What about the leaders and the innovators? Where are they going to come from?'

James Leeds, chief executive of Pupil Asset, a Norwich-based Future50 business, said while the government's ambitions were laudable, more could still be done.

The entrepreneur and his team spent much of last week at the BETT 2017 trade show at London's ExCel rubbing shoulders with the likes of Google, Sony, Apple and Microsoft as well as smaller businesses in the growing 'edutech' sector, part of the firm's growth strategy to win new business beyond its current stronghold in Norfolk.

'I think innovation in education could be faster, and there is a long way to go in adopting technology in schools,' he said. 'It's going to require a lot more effort than just lip service. The industries of the future are going to be technology-based.

'But the biggest thing that is going to help with the upskilling of our kids is improved social mobility. These things are intertwined. Reducing inequality will have more effect than any new initiative – doing one without the other isn't going to work.'