Speaking at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) Tony Danker, director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said that what powered growth in a city’s economy was a story – and in Leicester, that story was diversity.
He said: “If you look at the cities we consider successes – Manchester, Birmingham – there’s always a story. In Humberside, they have identified that they could be the best place in the entire world for renewable energy.
“In Leicester, diversity has to be part of the story.”
Mr Danker was speaking as part of a roundtable discussion held at the university, with a collection of business experts from DMU and across Leicester.
The discussion started with key DMU figures describing a couple of programmes started at DMU which have helped improve workforce diversity in the city.
These were Leicester’s Future Leaders, a project, supported by the Office for Students, that aims to increase the progression of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic graduates into high skilled graduate jobs in Leicester.
And the Leicester 1,000 project, which is working to connect 1,000 grads with 1,000 roles in Leicester and Leicestershire over the next three years.
Mr Danker praised these as being key to unlocking Leicester’s economic potential as a beacon for diversity.
He said: “The programmes you’re doing here are spot on; they’re golden. There’s a proactive energy for working with businesses here at DMU which we are very proud of”
He said that the one thing employers he had spoken to wanted was “work-ready graduates”.
Mary de Wind, a Journalism graduate, who was part of the Leicester’s Future Leaders inaugural programme, said the things she learned as part of the programme had directly helped her find a job as a social media manager.
She said: “It was there when I was putting my CV together and there when I was in interviews.
“When I was at school I was told I would never get five GCSEs but here I am with a whole degree and a job I love. That’s really down to the Leicester Future Leaders project.”
Mr Danker argued that for a city’s economy to grow, it needed three things: a story, which in Leicester he said could be its diversity; strong political leadership, and anchor institutions to help deliver the training. Leicestershire, he said, was very well-endowed in this aspect, with DMU, University of Leicester and Loughborough University all close to each other.
But he said the pandemic had led to a great number of opportunities for graduates to find work in the city.
He said: “The next 18 months is the window. Employers are desperate to find talent. Microbusiness3es will have lost people to the great resignation and to people finding a new work life balance.”