Why do people not want to work here?

Could we do more to retain talented young people to work in the region, asks John Lister.

Could we do more to retain talented young people to work in the region, asks John Lister. - Credit: Archant

Former Norwich North MP Ian Gibson insisted that 'We need to retain our local talent' in a recent edition of the EDP. Of course we should, but we must do more than that.

First we have to educate that talent to meet the needs of modern commerce, and we must also be able to attract gifted and experienced people from further afield to fill the gaps and pass on their experience and abilities to our local talent.

In conjunction with BID, UEA and Santander, the Norwich Society is currently leading a research project to identify and quantify the recruitment problems faced by local businesses. There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence as to why our major enterprises cannot persuade experienced staff to re-locate to Norwich – but we need to translate that into hard, empirical evidence so that the root causes of the problem may be addressed.

The stories will certainly include:

• Transport problems with the rest of England.


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Despite the dualling of the A11 (pity about the succession of roundabouts) dual carriageways are a rare species. There are as many giant pandas in Norfolk as there are miles of motorway. The A47 (to the Midlands and the North) and A140 (to Ipswich) are hopelessly inadequate. There are no cheap flights to and from Norwich airport. Trains – need I say more?

•Schooling.

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There are, of course, pockets of excellence, but there are simply not enough top grade state schools in and around Norwich into whose care aspirational incomers would entrust their children.

•Culture.

Theatre, music, visual arts, libraries – all pretty good, but the absence of a large concert hall means that the big stars and orchestras rarely visit the East of England, far less Norwich. This doesn't help the perception of this part of the country as a backwater.

There are, of course, positive forces at work in this Fine City which partially mitigate the difficulties of the recruitment process.

Norwich is educating an increasing numbers of graduates at the UEA and NUA, many of whom willingly return to live and work in the area after they discover that the streets of London and the South East may be paved with gold, but the quality of life here in the East is far more enriching. Similarly, many of those born, raised and educated in Norwich choose to return to live and work here following education and formative employment elsewhere in the country.

So what's the problem? Simply that major companies find difficulty in staffing head or regional offices in and around Norwich because they can't persuade key personnel and management to relocate here.

It would help greatly if they could recruit and train local school-leavers, but that would require a step-change in the secondary education process. This isn't just a problem in Norwich. Even in the City of London, businesses are paying for work permits to recruit young professionals from outside the European Union because home-grown talent does not have the requisite training or skills.

A secondary education lasting six years does not lend itself to rapid responses to a fast-changing economy propelled by new technology, but one wonders to what extent future demand from employers is considered when planning educational provision, and this rapidly changing world demands more flexibility and quicker responses from educationalists and trades unions alike.

This is not a new problem. I started my secondary education 49 years ago in Glasgow, once known as 'the workshop of the Empire'.

Engineering and technical drawing were considered to be non-academic subjects, and the brightest pupils were dissuaded from studying them in favour of arts and science subjects in the process of accumulating the necessary qualifications for the increasing numbers of university places. And we wonder why British manufacturing is in the state it's in now?

The Norwich Society is actively engaged in Shaping the Future of the City, as well as our better-known remit of helping people to enjoy its history and character.

We concur with Dr Gibson's call for action, and will enthusiastically participate in his proposed summit.

Perhaps our research project may discover that the people who don't want to move to Norwich to live and work are, ironically, doing so out of ignorance. They may have a misconception of the city's energy, vibrancy and first rate facilities, not to mention the beauty and heritage of Norwich and its surrounding countryside. Maybe Norwich doesn't sell itself properly.

Our project will identify and make contact with the people whose companies have been rejected by potential recruits and, better still, we would like those reluctant to move here to tell us why they have chosen not to apply for jobs in Norwich, or why they turned down offers to work here. I would urge local companies, or individuals, who have experience of this, to contact The Norwich Society, in order that our researcher, a Masters student at UEA, can interview them and add their experiences to his findings.

After all, we need to improve our local talent.

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