Stevenage Bioscience Park

Skills can make all the difference!

In terms of long-term employment and a lifetime of success, the right skills can make all the difference!

Proud to be born in the UK’s first new town, I have had first-hand experience of witnessing what was a post war paradigm of urbanisation from scratch. A Government experiment in creating a “land fit for heroes” and providing opportunity and homes to those willing to relocate, Stevenage will reach the grand old age of 75 years in 2022 and will still be upright and bright despite her age and attitude, born in a different era where centralised retail and bus journeys were a joy to behold at a time of very low car and home ownership.

Following my appointment as Chairman, the Stevenage Development Board received a £37.5 million government Towns Fund grant in March 2021, from our successful bid to change the future dynamic of Stevenage which you can see here. We start in Stevenage with the real benefit of Airbus building 25% of the world’s satellites now in orbit around the world; the largest Cell and Gene therapy cluster outside of the USA; and the largest construction project outside of the channel tunnel being established by GSK.

The government has already invested £120 million in the Bioscience Park and Catapult; fully supported by the Hertfordshire LEP. In my past capacity as Deputy Chair of the Hertfordshire LEP and current Chair of the LEP’s Skills and Employment Board, I have had the real opportunity to examine the performance of the towns in Hertfordshire mapped against both Employment Opportunity and Skills Delivery, and to identify the following interesting facts:

Employment – we are very fortunate to have on the Stevenage Development Board representatives from active Stevenage-based organisations such as MBDA, AIRBUS, GSK, Stevenage Bioscience, the Cell and Gene Catapult, the Wine Society, Herts LEP, the North Herts College and University of Hertfordshire, WENTA, Consumer Advice, the Hertfordshire LEP, Stevenage Borough Council and Herts County Council – each providing, in their own way, real career opportunities and relatively high salaries. In fact, during Covid, Stevenage had the lowest furlough rate amongst Herts based employers. Residents however endure lower rates of pay than the average pay scale delivered by Stevenage employers and consequently this infers that many Stevenage residents are leaving the Town each day, joining the traffic on the A1M to venture away from Stevenage for employment. In the age of Climate change this is not beneficial to us all.

Skills – many parties included in the delivery of education and skills have mentioned that there is little aspiration amongst the residents of North Herts to develop their skills above a level 2, yet local employers are seeking skills of level 3 and above to support their organisations and are encouraging workers to travel to Stevenage from all over Hertfordshire and beyond, exacerbating air pollution and climate change issues further. The issue therefore is how do we inspire residents to see the real employment opportunities in Stevenage and engage with the plethora of top-quality STEM employers on their doorstep?

The Opportunity – Working with Airbus and their Mars Rover facility, we have been extremely fortunate in securing a £1.5 million grant from the Hertfordshire LEP to create the STEM Discovery Centre in Stevenage and have so far entertained 14,000 school children with the delights of space technology, who have visited the centre in the three years leading up to the Covid pandemic to marvel at the Mars Rover and mock lunar surface. We now want to extend this to the advanced engineering, life sciences, cell and gene therapy sciences now actively being developed and delivered in Stevenage. We hope to encourage residents of the Town to visit this facility and encourage their children to aspire to a career in the STEM sectors locally.

With the Towns Fund allocation now agreed, we have set aside £5 million for a new STEM training facility : the “Stevenage Innovation and Technology Centre”, or SITECH, to train residents of North Herts into careers with local employers and more recently our University and FE college organisations have reached the last group stage in a bid for an Institute of Technology which will deliver qualifications at levels 3, 4 and 5 with the support of our major local, world leading organisations. With their help, we hopefully will convince Government that Hertfordshire is the right place for an Institute of Technology and win this bid to deliver an even broader range of qualifications and opportunities.

There has never been a better time to seriously consider improving your skills whatever age you are. The Covid pandemic has focussed all our minds on survival and what the future holds and it’s time to think how we can develop our prospects. The Government is set on boosting the Nations skills with a lifetime skills guarantee and whilst they have supported our homesteads with the furlough arrangements during Covid, we need to think how life might have been different if only we had been incentivised to use this time for training and development.
Add to this the opportunities that will abound post Brexit as the country changes its modus operandi to take on the supply to further countries worldwide who delight at British made goods – the products of a trusted democracy – there is a realistic chance of significantly improving your life chances and those of your family.

The world of education and skills delivery is becoming ever more interesting with the arrival of augmented reality and the availability at home of a faster range of tablets and PCs. Covid distancing has hastened the arrival and delivery of online learning by institutions, forced to find other ways to reach their students during the pandemic, which makes the world of learning and skills development more convenient without the usual availability and time constraints.

Now is the time to identify the rising stars in industry running world-class businesses close to home that can provide real career prospects in newly defined fast-growing markets and make a choice as to how your skills could develop. Alternatively, the company that currently provides your employment will have likely proven their commitment to you during the pandemic and will probably want to boost their future by investing in skills development of their own staff – so it could be a great time for that discussion with your current employer.

Remember in terms of long-term employment and a lifetime of success, the right skills can make all the difference!

#CreateMeaning @biz4Biz @weldingworld #skills #biz4biz


Adrian Hawkins OBE

About the Author

Adrian Hawkins OBE was awarded his honour by the Queen in the 2021 New Years Day Honours list for his services to business. A lifetime businessman, Adrian Chairs biz4Biz a business support organisation in Herts, Beds and Bucks which he founded 10 years ago to create a business network in the Home Counties. Adrian is also the Managing Director of Welding World, Chairman of the Hertfordshire LEP Skills and Employment Board and Chairman of the Stevenage Development Board. Adrian has 40 years’ experience in the world of business.

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