THE tables have been packed away, the banners have been refurled, the leaflets have been given out, and the contact details have been exchanged.

Another Skills Fair has been and gone – and I want to extend a huge thanks to all the attendees – students (and their parents and teachers!) and jobseekers, as well as of course to the businesses and skills providers who attended.

I am particularly grateful to a number of Carlisle businesses who have supported the Skills Fair every year it has been on. Businesses like these are the backbone of our communities.

This was the tenth Skills Fair I have held, and I genuinely think that it was the most successful yet. The number of businesses was the largest we have seen – and there was a constant flow of students and others looking to find employment, change jobs, or upskill themselves.

As it was the tenth fair, it got me thinking about what had changed about the Skills Fair since the first one was held in 2014.

I think the most immediately noticeable change is the stands. When I look at the businesses exhibiting, whether small or large, the professionalism and visually striking aspects of the stalls are remarkable.

The stands at the first fair were great, but there has been a noticeable evolution in the offer over the years. There are banners, screens, and of course branded freebees (yo-yos were a particular favourite this year!).

There was even a full-sized digger simulator, brought in by Japanese multinational company Komatsu who have recently opened their UK headquarters here in Carlisle.

Another change is the businesses themselves – or more specifically the diversity of what is on offer.

Last week there were accountants, armed forces, vets, hotels, submarine builders, care-givers, banks and biscuit-makers – with more and everything in between. It is fantastic to see the remarkable diversity of the economy in Carlisle, in terms of the businesses themselves but also the employment opportunities and training on offer.

Finally, the big change I have noticed is the attitude of students to apprenticeships and vocational training opportunities.

I genuinely believe there has been a culture shift in terms of how apprenticeships are seen – and it is no longer the case that students automatically consider university as their next stage of education without considering alternative vocational higher educational routes.

Of course, there will always be a need for our universities, and the University of Cumbria has some excellent courses with many that themselves have high vocational relevance. But I do think the automatic assumption that higher education means university and university alone is not the same as it was 10 years ago.

But, in thinking about what has changed over the last 10 Skills Fairs it actually made me realise there has always been a constant throughout – engaging and successful local businesses meeting with enthusiastic and proactive students and jobseekers.

It is this dynamic and these relationships which form throughout the day that make the event such a success. No matter how much the economy or industries change, that will always stay the same.