This last week, Robyn Lovelock, our Growth Deal Programme Manager, gave evidence at the Welsh Affairs Committee in Westminster – which examined ‘to what extent is Wales’ economy impacted by young people leaving Wales?’ 

Here Robyn reflects on the experience, work being done in North Wales to keep talent in the region, alongside challenges faced and the key asks that could bring solutions. 

  • I was rather surprised to be asked to speak with the Welsh Affairs Committee about Growth Deal engagement with young people and its impact on their prospects, though pleased for the opportunity.

    The population of Wales is expected to grow over coming years, but the population of those over 75 years will increase disproportionately – by 24%, compared with an increase of only 5.6% among the working age population.  

North Wales already experiences depopulation of young people, from rural and coastal areas - and from Welsh-speaking communities in particular. Understandably, this trend risks undermining the cohesiveness of those communities through gradual attrition of services.  

Drivers of youth depopulation are fairly well understood – the attraction of better paid jobs, wider study, employer and industry choice over the border are certainly a challenge to North Wales. There’s the increasing cost of housing too - particularly driven by second homes, the lack of town centre investment and commuting limitations, although remote and hybrid working trends are increasing options. 

The North Wales Growth Deal was established to make progress on these issues.

Our Digital Connectivity Programme and Land and Property Programme each include ‘enabler’ projects, which are making progress on providing access to affordable housing and modern digital infrastructure for young people and young families. Then there’s our Low Carbon Energy Programme will enable household energy efficiency and wider renewable energy provision – all positive news, bringing benefits to the region.  

Other projects seek to develop more robust career pathways for young people in attractive and growing STEM sectors, for example: 

In addition, there are further set of Growth Deal projects that are likely to be particularly attractive to young people - capitalise on the region’s land, culture and heritage strengths, while combatting the challenges of geography and patchy transport infrastructure:  

The Tourism Talent Network aims to strengthen the tourist sector skills base in the region by training over 750 students through apprenticeships at leading tourism businesses across the region. 

The Zip World Responsible Adventure project seeks to expand jobs offered in a rural area while also combatting the road congestion driven through the popularity of North Wales to visitors, by shifting a significant proportion of its visitors onto electric buses.  

Both these projects, and others, seek to embed Welsh language and culture alongside greater focus in the tourism sector on sustainability and innovation. 

All our projects specifically consider and track how the interventions support skills development, job creation and enterprise support - to rural communities, communities experiencing multiple deprivation, Welsh-speaking communities and young people. 

However, the ‘brain drain’ to elsewhere will likely continue or be reinforced despite these interventions without consideration of three critical issues I hope came across in my presentation to the Welsh Affairs Committee:

Changed funding pathways since leaving the European Union has meant funding for skills and employment interventions are scattered across Welsh, UK and other funding schemes with different training or career support offers across all six local authorities in North Wales.  
Also, funding is generally available for a year or less – although courses of study are typically 1-4 years. As a result, this short-term and patchy funding prevents career pathways being developed and communicated effectively to students and their influencers - such as parents, guardians and career guidance officers.  
Short funding schemes means workloads across local authority teams and workforce training organisations becomes focused on grant applications, and on keeping up with multiple monitoring and reporting frameworks instead of on quality pathway support. 

Policy implementation and project processes need to deliver on well-being goals, including but not limited to economic prosperity. National Survey of Wales data shows that 79% of 16–24-year-olds are fairly or very concerned about climate change – that's a rapid increasing from only 65% in 2016.  

Nationally and in Wales, there are policies that seek to “level up” less prosperous areas and prepare our workforce for a low-carbon, more sustainable future, but public value is then lost if all projects are not tested against these.  

Our Growth Deal projects are focused on job creation and investment, but we’ve also strengthened standard project processes to consider emissions and biodiversity impacts, alongside benefits to rural communities, young people and Welsh-speaking communities.  

Investment into sustainable, circular industry and technology that supports energy and workforce efficiency is vital. However, alongside this, retention of young people in North Wales would be easier if government attention, investment and media coverage also communicated the importance of the foundational economy and critical services at the heart of North Wales to wider UK prosperity – value that will become critical over coming years.  
Agriculture, fishing, food and forestry are central to the way of life in North Wales and will be increasingly valuable in the future with significant agri-food supply chain reshoring. When these sectors are largely invisible alongside tales of investment in high-tech, digital futures - why would young people want to stay in these sectors, manage their significant pressures, mental and physical efforts?  

The session also focused on other important areas: the value of the diaspora, well represented by Water Kay from Global Welsh; the importance of developing entrepreneurial attitudes through school and further/higher education; and how to engage out of education young people through initiatives such as the brilliant Mind the Gap.  

However, the three key asks were: 

  • Multi-year revenue funding for development and communication of robust regionally specific skills pathways
  • Funding schemes that require joined-up delivery of economic outcomes alongside wider wellbeing outcomes, which the government wants to see around health, emissions and biodiversity 
  • A better balance of emphasis and investment across sustainable agriculture, food and land-based careers alongside continued investment in wider regional technology.