Friday, 17 May 2013

A smarter way of living - delivering skills for young people for the new jobs just round the corner.

I had a great morning at smartLIFE in Cambridge today.   They give hands on practical training in how to build the very best of energy efficient homes.   This is about providing real skills to help people save real money on their energy bills.

Youth unemployment is a big concern - young people often say to me that they want skills which match up to local job needs.  "smartLIFE" works with construction and building companies, local councils and planning authorities to identify what skills will be needed and where.  Then hand in hand with local schools, further education colleges and universities it is matching the training to the jobs that are likely to come on stream.  I also works with schools to identify those 13 -14 year olds who might become the NEETs of the future, and gives them training of real skills.  In addition it runs tailored training programs for plumbers, builders, heating experts, electricians who want to learn about the latest technology - especially in energy efficiency.

The facilities are awesome.   In one building they have the ability to construct entire houses undercover so that trainees can learn safely in all weather conditions.  Down the road where I visited today there are hands-on, real-life working prototypes of solar panels, heat pumps and exchangers.  The group in this photo were learning how to do a test run on the latest generation wood-chip boiler - it will save at least 50% off oil fired boilers.  Given that over 20% of East Anglian households don't have access to mains gas this sort of technology is more and more attractive.

Its not just Cambridge, they have a new facility looking a teaching how to retrofit existing buildings which is based in Wisbech, deep in the Fens.   Peterborough has plans to open a smartLIFE centre teenagers from as far as Kent come for training sessions.  Internationally they exchange ideas with partners in Germany and Sweden.  The boss is on his way to present to a conference in Florida.  There is even interest in Brazil.  This all helps to make sure that the skills being delivered locally are of the highest standards.

smartLIFE have received substantial grants from the EU budget.  Some of these grants have been liberating and enabled development of cutting edge ideas, others have been red tape, rigid and "dusty".  In Europe I have led work for the Conservatives and Reformists on energy efficiency.  Energy prices are ever increasing, energy security is a growing concern, we need to save energy without switching out light.

To help young people we need local solutions which deliver the right skills for the local development.  We don't need top down rigid targets from Brussels - but there is a huge amount we can learn from other areas and other countries too.



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