As the Vice-Chancellor of Wrexham Glyndŵr University I am acutely aware of the diverse nature of the North Wales geography and economy. We are clearly linked to South and West Wales by devolved government and a shared culture/language but we are also part of a combined region which crosses the border via the A55 and links us to the economies of the Northern Powerhouse.
Wrexham Glyndŵr University led a cross-border group comprising Bangor University, University of Chester, the Mersey Dee Alliance and the North-Wales Economic Ambition Board to explore how the growth strategies and priority plans for the cross border region could be joined up (taking cognisance of Government wide strategies). Each region and its strategies have variations but there is an underlying commonality within sectors and skill requirements.
The group, which was supported by a cross-border All-Party Parliamentary Group in Westminster, led by the MP for Wrexham, Ian Lucas, spearheaded a unique venture which involved data-sharing between organisations that had not previously worked together in this way.
Our approach included a mapping exercise of graduate destinations over a four-year period from the three universities against perceived priority industry sectors in the cross border (Mersey Dee) and wider (North Wales and Cheshire and Warrington) areas. The aim was to identify how many of the universities’ graduates stayed in the region and what proportion of them were employed in the key sectors, whilst also comparing this with the picture outside the region.
This work is well aligned to the aims of the Growing Value Wales Task Force and has informed its discussions, particularly in relation to the innovative approach to cross border data sharing and collaboration.
What we found out was interesting …
54% remained in the region (defined as North Wales plus the Wirral, Chester and Cheshire-West area), but if we narrow the data to those originally domiciled within the region on entering university this percentage increases to 80%.
Of those who have stayed in the region, 61% have found work within the priority sectors. However, the group noted that Education and Public Services, although not classed as priority sectors do underpin the wider economy and are large graduate-level employing sectors.
One area of concern which emerged was that over the past 4 years graduate employment in the so-called priority sectors has been static, indicating that regional strategies have not yet had a significant impact on provision and demand, or possibly are not always a reflection of the real economy. And there was very little difference in the graduate employment breakdown by sector within and outside the region, irrespective of the individual strategies.
For example, Life Sciences, Health and Social Care are major sectors no matter where our graduates go (at around 40%). Manufacturing is somewhat stronger in the region than elsewhere, while Financial and Professional Services are somewhat weaker. We also found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that growth sectors identified in the regional strategies such as Construction and Energy/Environment employ very few graduates.
We held a round-table meeting in July 2017, bringing together employer representatives to explore the data and to discuss the cross-border picture of graduate employment mapped against the key sectors identified in regional policy.
A key observation made was that generally employers in the Mersey Dee area do not recognise the border between England and Wales and so skills and training provision and business support should be seamless within that economic area regardless of which side of the border they are based.
Other observations include the need for better connections between employers and educators – linking to the emerging recommendations from the Growing Value Wales Task Force. The group also made remarks on the need for greater work based learning opportunities and the use of apprenticeships/degree apprenticeships as a framework to ensure graduates were ‘work ready’, as well as the need to ensure that appropriate skill requirements are met and that the educators are well-versed in developing technologies.
By Professor Maria Hinfelaar, Vice-Chancellor, Wrexham Glyndŵr University