Skills and logistics to help West London ride the wave of economic downturn

A skills-based recovery and an expanding logistics industry could provide the green shoots to West London communities reliant on the pandemic-hit aviation industry.

The Capital West London Build & Recover Summit session, ‘What is next for aviation communities?’, presented the impact of COVID-19 on the Heathrow-focused sector and how the area can adapt.

Neil McCullough, of Oxford Economics, outlined research carried out by his institute which found that around 133,600 jobs are dependent on Heathrow directly and indirectly, with 60,000 of them taken up by residents in the surrounding area. With major airlines predicting 30 per cent job cuts and cargo reduced by 62%, Oxford Economics predicts 21,300 jobs could be lost, with the figures rising to 37,000 when the furlough scheme ends but coming back to 2019 levels by 2023.

Niall Bolger, Chief Executive, London Borough of Hounslow, reported 8,000 jobs in the borough had been lost, 6,000 people were on reduced hours and 8,000 businesses have suspended operations.

He added: “What we know is there could be significant, radical and dramatic implications for individuals, families and communities as a consequence of COVID-19 and by far the greatest and starkest impact is going to be as a consequence of Heathrow’s downturn.”

BAME communities, young people and the over 50s were worst affected by the pandemic, he said, adding: “The issue is skills, people need to have the skills to access jobs in the area.”

Hounslow Chamber’s CEO, Sally Smith, said: “Heathrow has been the economic driver for so long and we have got to break the mould. We have put all our eggs in one basket because nobody saw COVID-19 coming.”

She told delegates about the Kickstart Scheme, which places unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds on paid work placements with local companies to gain skills to obtain employment.

Tracy Aust, Principal, West Thames College, said that as part of Kickstart, the college was supporting students in sector-specific skills including a work academy for the civil service.

“It’s got to be a skills-led recovery,” she added, and highlighted how health, construction and the green economy were all sectors of opportunity but skills need to be aligned with them

Prologis Regional Head, Paul Weston, said the logistics sector was a major opportunity for jobs and business growth. On the company’s logistics parks, some businesses were faring incredibly well. The online sales sector experienced 5-10 years growth in the six months during lockdown and data centres saw a 700% spike.

“West London as an area for data, has all the right characteristics in terms of fibre, in terms of power to drive that, and there are some very hi-tech jobs associated with that,” he added.

“I think there is a real opportunity with the logistics sector which has traditionally not been very good at marketing itself. COVID has brought the importance of the supply chain to bear. We need to use this as a moment in time to capture that skills piece. As a building owner we want to help our customers and they have been crying out for staff.”

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