Schools and education providers have been urged to support young people into future high skills jobs in North Derbyshire to ensure the area reaches its economic potential.

The call to action came at the fourth annual Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Employability and Skills Conference organised by Chesterfield Borough Council, The D2N2 North Derbyshire Careers Hub, and Destination Chesterfield.

Speaking at the conference Mark Cottingham, Principal of Shirebrook Academy and part of the newly established North Derbyshire Careers Hub, appealed to businesses and employers to get involved with schools in order to get future school leavers work ready.

He said: “Education is more than passing exams. Qualifications are not enough. We need to open the eyes of young people beyond school. The more links we can have with businesses and employers then the better work we can do with young people to get them ready for employment.

“There is nothing better than a workplace visit and work experience to open the eyes of a young person to the reality of the world of work. They have a real impact on young people and they often give them a determination and focus to achieve their ambitions.”

The conference brought together more than 100 representatives from North Derbyshire’s business community and education sector ahead of the creation of thousands of jobs in the area over the next five years.

Speaking at the conference Rachel Quinn, Head of People and Skills at D2N2 LEP echoed Mr Cottingham, saying: “There is a skills mismatch which we have to address immediately by encouraging the building of strategic partnerships between employers, young people, schools and colleges.

“Skills are one of the most important factors in determining economic outcomes for people and places. Currently North Derbyshire is creating four times as many jobs as the working age population creating a gap in prosperity due to falling productivity levels.”

The annual conference, which was held at Ringwood Hall Hotel & Spa, was headlined by television personality Baasit Siddiqui, Managing Director of Siddiqui Education, a Derby-based company which uses his public profile, 10 years teaching experience and the positive reputation of the Siddiquis from Gogglebox to help motivate and inspire school children.

Speaking at the conference, Mr Siddiqui praised Chesterfield’s approach to collaborative working but urged that it should be a lifelong strategy in individuals’ lives if people are to achieve their potential.

He said: “Research has shown that children in receipt of free school meals or the Pupil Premium are typically 18 months behind their peers academically. Collaboration, amongst other strategies, can help bridge the attainment gap between children in receipt of free school meals and Pupil Premium and their peers by five months.

“Social mobility does not start and stop in school; it starts from birth and continues throughout life. Unless there is collaboration between schools and local businesses to inspire people at all ages and levels, then there is the possibility of a disconnect in skills and disadvantaged young people will not benefit from those jobs.”

Chesterfield currently has one of the highest rates of students on free school meals in Derbyshire. Currently there is a 4% growth in skilled jobs in Chesterfield which employers are struggling to fill, particularly in the engineering and communications sectors.

That figure is set to grow further as multimillion-pound PEAK, Chesterfield Waterside, Northern Gateway and Staveley Works developments start to come out of the ground.

Cllr Tricia Gilby, Leader of Chesterfield Borough Council commented: “Chesterfield is experiencing record levels of investment and can rightly call itself a billion-pound town. Skills are at the heart of a successful economy, which is why we must develop the skills of local people to ensure they can access the many opportunities that are being created now and over the next five years in Chesterfield and the surrounding area. Already considerable collaboration and effort is taking place across North Derbyshire to ensure future skills meet the demand.”

Mr Cottingham added: “The economy needs informed, enthused young people and it’s the role of educationalists to ensure this happens and we can only do this by establishing strategic partnerships with employers. It is these partnerships that will enable pupils to understand how academic concepts can be applied to real jobs.”

With more than 14,000 students in North Derbyshire set to gain their GCSE and A level qualifications in the next five years, education and business leaders are working together to  develop solutions that will ensure a strong pipeline of talent is being developed in order to provide a future workforce with the skills required by employers.