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Skills in Suffolk: Sizewell C and its Promise of Education and Employment

Suffolk
Shivani Sen

Shivani Sen

Research and Policy Analyst at Curia

In 2022, a £700 million government investment towards greater energy independence in the UK signalled a green light for Sizewell C. Approved under the leadership of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and further upheld by a £20 billion investment from EDF, Sizewell was envisioned as one of the cornerstones for Net Zero and clean energy in the UK. Initiatives such as these are often studded with a plethora of competing opinions, not just from groups and individuals acting as key stakeholders, but perhaps, and often more importantly, from communities that lay the grounds for such development to take place. In the case of Sizewell C, individuals, families, students and the biodiversity in the heart of Suffolk have provided the bedrock for the Government’s levelling up agenda through clean energy.

The two-reactor plant is estimated to generate enough electricity to power six million homes. However, what remains to be seen is the simultaneous generation of equal opportunities through apprenticeships and stable employment within the energy sector in Suffolk.

To discuss this complex issue, Curia hosted a Chatham House roundtable in Ipswich, which saw experts from a diverse range of political, industry and academic backgrounds discuss the future of skills in Suffolk. With levelling up headlining the government agenda, the translation of this framework to a vision for Suffolk saw nuanced ideas and effective solutions for increasing employment opportunities and reducing inequalities.

Suffolk at the heart of Net Zero

The roundtable’s vision for Suffolk highlighted the county as a global exemplar of skill enhancement and transition to Net Zero while building effective training opportunities in the process of meeting that target. One of the attendees expressed his agreement stating, “We need to invest in young people and we need to get across the message that there are huge opportunities in the growth areas that we are talking about.”

With the loss of jobs during COVID-19, the economic slowdown, as well as the impact on most global economies due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, opportunities such as Sizewell C provide several avenues for opportunities. These would be in the form of stable jobs that simultaneously promise upward progression on the employment ladder¾owing to their scale and long-term growth trajectory. Not only were such measures seen to support local communities in Suffolk, but also an opportunity to attract skills from different regions of the country.

The members of the roundtable went on to stress that such education and apprenticeship programmes provide opportunities to individuals with all levels of skills¾unskilled, semiskilled and skilled workers¾helping young workers enter the job market with relative ease.

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Supply chain breaks and a collaborative approach

COVID-19 presented a severe hindrance to the self-confidence and social skills of workers and new entrants. In a time of virtual learning, interpersonal communication and in-person job training have been adversely hit. Moving forward, it was discussed that apprenticeships and further education programmes are necessary to incorporate training in personal communication. In addition, discussions on mental health have a positive impact on employees’ work outcomes. At the same time, in sectors of manufacturing and construction in Suffolk, the roundtable believed there to be a misalignment between on-the-site job requirements and the anticipated requirements of the role by new job market entrants. As a remedy to this, it was deemed imperative that the communities in consideration, i.e. workers, should be included in conversations where their needs are represented. For example, bringing senior apprentices to discuss their experiences at local policy discussions and job fairs helps manage the expectations of both employers and employees by learning through others’ lived experiences.

Within the agenda of levelling up, colleges and schools are not without responsibility. The education system forms the bedrock of the levelling-up agenda. In Suffolk, it should be ensured that young people view education as an opportunity to perform well in the job market. Particularly in colleges, it is necessary that they reach out and work with businesses to build seamless frameworks that provide an easy transition into the workforce for apprentices, while also providing on-site career guidance. 

Following the success of Curia’s roundtable, Chamber hosted a panel event with leaders to discuss the skills Suffolk will need to drive growth in the future.

Biodiversity and branding

A notable concern by participants was the local displacement of skills caused by the nuclear project, as well as its impact on Suffolk’s natural beauty. One of the attendees expressed his concern, saying, “We need to cherish this natural beauty and look after it because it is an asset. It is worth £170 million a year for the tourism industry. It is supporting, currently, five thousand jobs a year.” With Sizewell C, there was a worry about a threat to natural biodiversity in the area. A solution-oriented discussion saw several ideas put forward by the table. According to the members of the discussion, an ideal image of levelling up in Suffolk requires the need for branding that categorises Suffolk not just as a space with favourable employment but one with ample leisure opportunities, preserved scenic beauty and fully funded on-site transportation to the power plant. As a result of a renewed focus on leisure, workers and their families could be attracted to the area and stay in the area in the coming years.

While participants debated the impact of Sizewell C on the county, there was a collective appreciation for a vision that, through concerted efforts of academia, industry and Government, would turn Suffolk into a green corridor of the UK.

Final thought

With the UK Government’s plan to decarbonise the country’s electricity by 2035, projects such as Sizewell C become necessary investments as low-carbon alternatives. However, despite being one of the greenest forms of energy, nuclear energy often produces emissions¾as measured by greenhouse emissions released in the extensive process of manufacture and construction for materials needed. Though these are often considered externalities, what also needs to be considered is the long-term storage and handling of nuclear waste.

Sizewell C does remain a step in the right direction for levelling up. The promise of new employment opportunities remains a viable option for helping local communities that have been hard hit after the pandemic. The generation of skilled employment and apprenticeship programmes would significantly help in making Suffolk the vision that its local community and the Government believes it can be.

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