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A vital link: Eluned Morgan welcomes Business Exchange

PUPILS in Wales are set to benefit from a new platform that will link thousands of Welsh employers with schools, to facilitate ongoing opportunities for engagement with employers.

The national careers advice service has launched a pilot ‘Education Business Exchange’ – a platform enabling employers to work directly with schools to provide bespoke experiences for pupils.

Employers that sign up to the exchange will provide detail on activities they can offer for pupils, and how far they are prepared to travel. Activities could include short or longer term work experience, taster sessions or outreach visits, guest talks at schools, as well as masterclasses or workshops.

Schools will then be able to search the online portal and select businesses based on bespoke criteria, including local authority area and type of activity, all in line with their own needs and preferences.

For example, a STEM teacher looking to bring to life classroom learning could search the portal for a local engineering company, or a media studies teacher could source a digital media company to bring to life classroom teaching.

The programme, was launched earlier this week at Bishop Hedley school in Merthyr along with GE Aviation, will be piloted initially in 8 local authority areas, with a target of 62 schools.

It is anticipated that, once rolled out, more than 13,000 employers will have registered for the Exchange, resulting in thousands of new, bespoke opportunities for pupils.

A UK-wide ‘Making the Grade’ report, commissioned by charity Education and Employers, demonstrates the value of employer engagement, finding that:

  • 9 out of 10 secondary school teachers (93%) say that work experience and employer-related activities can help students to do better in exams.
  • Teachers also said that one in five pupils (20%) in a typical year group today have positively benefitted from these activities in school.
  • Successful work experience placements are believed to have the greatest impact on improving academic attainment, with over a quarter of teachers ranking it as their first choice. This is followed closely by employer-led sessions such as career events with employee volunteers.
  • Over half of teachers felt academic achievement can be improved by helping students understand the relevance of education to employment, as well as exposing students to new role models through employer engagement.

Graham Bowd, chief executive at Careers Wales, said: “There has been much debate about the need for young people to engage with employers in Wales, and schools’ capacity to facilitate more interactions between pupils and employers, and the value of pupils interacting with businesses has never been clearer.

“The Education Business Exchange supports a broader engagement agenda. It will allow a range of quality opportunities, including giving smaller employers, who may not previously have been able to offer the traditional week’s work experience, an opportunity to make a valuable contribution to young people’s understanding about the world of work.

“Our Education Business Exchange is aiming to link the worlds of education and business and introduce businesses directly to pupils in schools. It will allow a wider range of engagement with learners by employers and in a more co-ordinated and meaningful way.

“The portal will help plug any gaps in provision and has the potential to bring consistency in approach across Wales, embedding employer engagement throughout the curriculum in a streamlined and efficient way.”

Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, Eluned Morgan said: “The Education Business Exchange will provide a vital link between schools and employers, opening up new and exciting opportunities for young people and employers alike. Bringing employers and young people together is vital to helping students understand the skills and experience they need to gain in order to move forward and succeed in the world of work.

“I know many employers are eager to engage with their communities and provide opportunities for young people. As it is rolled out across Wales the Education Business Exchange has the potential to improve the links between schools and employers, for the benefit of all involved. I wish the project every success.”

Sarah Davies, GE Aviation Wales HR Coordinator said: “Working collaboratively with the education system is essential in building a strong and diverse workforce, and forms a talent pipeline into the business here at GE Aviation Wales.

“Our aim is to combine skills sharing and curriculum support in order to inspire young people about science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). We are working to bridge the UK STEM skills gap while fostering enthusiasm for jobs in these industries, and we believe that working together with schools is a key way to achieve this.”

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MP makes Budget case for support for self-employed and small businesses in Ceredigion

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BEN LAKE MP has called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the government’s financial support package for businesses and self-employed workers in next week’s Budget as many struggle to stay afloat during continued lockdown restrictions. 

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak is to set out the UK Government’s budget on Wednesday 3 March, almost a year since the last Budget on 11 March 2020. 

To help businesses and our local high streets over coming months, the Ceredigion MP has called on the Chancellor to extend the lowered rate of VAT at 5% for hospitality and tourism for a year to March 2022 and to extend the business rates relief package. 

Mr Lake also called on the Chancellor to retain the furlough scheme for the duration of pandemic restrictions, as recent figures show more than 178,000* in Wales are still receiving government help from the CJRS. He also urged the Chancellor to expand the existing eligibility criteria for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme in order to offer some help to the many individuals who have not received a penny in Government support thus far. 

Ben Lake MP said: “For many businesses and self-employed workers, the financial support government has offered over the last 12 months has been a lifeline. Now, as we are finally starting to see light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, we cannot remove this lifeline prematurely. Extending this help for a little longer, and expanding the criteria to help those that have been excluded thus far, would offer small businesses the support they require to ‘bounce back’ from the pandemic.” 

Many businesses who are still not open due to lockdown measures are also now expected to start repaying their Bounce Back Loans. This is despite their situation largely remaining unchanged since they took out the loan, or in some unfortunate instances, worsened as they have not yet been able to trade.  

UKHospitality has estimated that the hospitality sector lost around £72 billion in sales in 2020 and faces, frankly, a debt mountain, including £4.2 billion in state-backed loans.  

Mr Lake said:  “It is important that businesses that took out bounce back loans and CBILS are required to pay only when they are in a position to do so – once they have ‘bounced back’ from the pandemic. Affording such a level of flexibility, and thus preventing avoidable business failures, would protect jobs, the taxpayer’s investment in the recovery, and the integrity of our financial system.

“We remain in the early stages of a vaccine-led recovery, and it is likely that we will have some form of restrictions for many months to come. Having done so much to protect the economy and the workforce, we must not withdraw support prematurely, as to do so would risk throwing away the investment taxpayers have made in the last year, and potentially our economic recovery.” 

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£3.8m to upgrade local gas network

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WALES & WEST UTILITIES says it is continuing its work to upgrade the gas pipes supplying homes and businesses across west Wales and has announced a £3.8 million investment programme for 2021.

The work, which will see 19km of gas pipe upgraded, not only keeps the gas flowing safely today, it also prepares the gas network to transport green gases like hydrogen and biomethane. Converting the existing safe and reliable gas network to run on green gas will help communities across Wales and south west England play their part in a green future and getting the UK to Net Zero.

Rob Long, Wales & West Utilities Chief Operating Officer, said: “While most of the gas network is underground and out of sight, it plays a central role in the daily lives of people across west Wales. Whether it’s heating your home, making the family dinner or having a hot bath, we understand how important it is for your gas supply to be safe and reliable and there when you need it.

“Our investment in local communities is essential to keep the gas flowing to local homes and businesses today, and to make sure the gas network is ready to transport hydrogen and biomethane, so we can all play our part in a green future.

“And it will make sure that we continue to support communities through Coronavirus, keeping the gas flowing so local people are safe and warm.”

Wales & West Utilities look after the pipes that keep the gas flowing to heat the homes and power businesses of 7.5m people across Wales and south west England. They operate the gas emergency service, connect new homes and businesses, and upgrade the gas network so it’s safe today and fit for a green future.

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Wales is moving in the right direction to ease coronavirus restrictions

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THE NUMBER of coronavirus patients being treated in Welsh hospitals is at the lowest for three months, Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething has revealed at a briefing today (Feb 8).

The R number is below one, it was confirmed – the most recent estimate from SAGE is that R is between 0.7 and 0.9 in Wales.

He also confirmed that the latest figures show the testing positivity rate has fallen in Wales below 10%, which means Wales could soon be moving is from alert level 4 to alert level 3.

Mr Gething said: “There are some encouraging signs that the number of people needing hospital treatment for coronavirus is starting to fall.

“The number of people with confirmed Covid in our hospitals is at the lowest since 8 November and we have also seen a reduction in the number of people with coronavirus needing intensive care.

“Overall, we are seeing cases of coronavirus fall. Monday’s figures show there are around 115 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people in Wales.

“But this varies widely across Wales.

In Wrexham, rates are above 220 cases per 100,000 people, although this is falling. In Ceredigion, the rate has risen over the last seven days to 56 cases per 100,000 people. “The positivity rate – this is the percentage of tests, which return a positive result every day – is also falling. It now stands at just below 10%.

“This is still high, but it’s a lot lower than the very high rates we were seeing before Christmas, when we had overall rates of more than 650 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of more than 25%.”

BAM communities hesitant to get vaccines

Concerns have been growing in recent weeks about an apparent hesitancy from some people in black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) communities to have the Covid-19 vaccine. Which is why Mr Gething also told the briefing that work was being done to counter some of the misinformation about the vaccine, which is common among some groups and communities.

He said that Welsh Government was closely monitoring vaccine uptake to make sure there are no barriers to take-up.

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