Calls have been made to invest in adult education to tackle the low skill base in the region.
The Northeast Chamber of Commerce has written to the government urging them to expand adult education to help people get back into work.
Chamber Chief James Ramsbotham said: “Our region is facing many structural economic challenges that will fundamentally change the way the competence system works.
“These challenges include not only the Covid-19 pandemic, but also Britain’s exit from the European Union and the move to more automation and digitization.
“The pandemic has accelerated technological development quickly. It is therefore the responsibility of the skills system to help people get back to work and, if necessary, to help new sectors of the economy. ”
“Research has consistently shown a strong correlation between adults who complete training courses and return to work successfully, especially for non-graduates.”
In November, the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that spending on adult education was almost two-thirds lower in real terms than 2003/04 and around 50 percent lower than 2009/10.
Recent figures show that unemployment in the Northeast is 6.6 percent in the three months to the end of October, with Hartlepool, South Tyneside and Middlesbrough being the hardest hit areas in the UK.
Mr. Ramsbotham added, “Ensuring that our skills system is fit for purpose is an essential part of future prosperity and the ability of the Northeast to improve.
“The Northeast entered this crisis with an already high unemployment rate, making the region disproportionately vulnerable to national unemployment spikes.”
The chamber calls for efforts to remove obstacles that prevent adults from participating in education and training.
Currently, support is only available to people who do not have a Level 3 qualification, and no training is allowed for those with a benefit claim who wish to complete more than 16 hours of classes per week.
The government, which is expected to publish a white paper on continuing education in the fall, has already committed itself to restoring public funding for the first full level 3 qualifications for all age groups from April.
A National Skills Fund was also announced, with £ 375 million committed in November.
The chamber letter was co-signed by members Darren Hankey of Hartlepool College and Nadine Hudspeth of Gateshead College.
It says: “The government’s focus since March has rightly been on short-term survival.
“However, the need to fundamentally transform the adult education system has never been more evident.
“While the National Skills Fund announcement, college capital increase, and Lifetime Skills Guarantee are steps in the right direction, turning the tide of a decade of neglect won’t be enough.”
Mr. Hankey said he was “saddened” by the decline in adult education and had low turnout.
He said, “Report after report highlight the impact on those who might be most involved in this ministry. People like me who for some reason have not maximized formal education opportunities.
“I also think that the development of the labor market has not helped in recent years.
“The rise of precarious jobs usually means that those in these roles are less likely to benefit from work-sponsored education and training and have limited time or financial resources to make these investments themselves.”