IMPROVING employability in education came out as the key theme among a panel of business leaders in York as they discussed how to close the North-South divide.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) staged a Northern Lights event at the Principal York Hotel this week, inviting Yorkshire businesses to share their views on northern prosperity, before feeding them back to the organisation’s lobbying policy team.

The event took the form of a debate with a panel including Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership chairman Roger Marsh and Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

The open debate, chaired by Richard Abbott of Cicada Commuications, centred on what is needed to unlock the true potential of the North and saw the emergence of a number of reoccurring themes, mainly skills and education.

Business leaders in the room agreed a “policy shift” was needed to encourage children into careers rather than focus on exam results at schools. Engagement between businesses and schools was encouraged, as well as doing more to showcase career potential in the North.

Mr Murison said: “We are calling for the schools in the North to be as good as those in London by 2022. We won’t achieve our Northern Powerhouse plan for 2050 without doing that, because if we don’t get the schools and education sorted we will continue to lag behind.

“We talk a lot about anchor cities but actually in terms of our more rural areas we need to look at how do we raise career aspirations beyond the big obvious employers. We have to turn this around and shine the lights on the SMEs.

“I would like to see schools assessed on where pupils are at the age of 25, what wages they are on, where they are in their careers, that is as much an indicator of success as exam results. We want to be able to grade schools on employability performance exactly the same as we do league tables for exam results. That will have as big an impact on the economy as getting more children doing better in English and Maths GCSEs.

Mr Marsh said he believe the North has the potential to “pay its own way” in economic and skills terms, adding: “If it does that in such a gradient the North will be an additive to national wealth rather than an beneficiary of it.”.

He said: “There is a challenge with our young people, with schools getting young people to have ambitions and aspirations.

“It bemuses me how in business supply chains are the best thing but when it comes to education it’s not seen as another critical supply chain.”