Birmingham is ready to meet the skills challenge


Although reading the Centre for Cities think-tank report this week (saying that the Birmingham city region is behind other cities in terms of job creation and unemployment), could have been depressing, actually it was a very welcome report.

Welcome because not only is it accurate, but is shines a spotlight on what we have known and been working to address in Birmingham since I took up this cabinet role nearly two years ago.

Behind these stark and frightening statistics and facts, lies the story of what we are doing as a city to address the problem.  And when I say ‘we as a city’ I mean just that. We have to work – and are working – closely with partners and all those in with a stake in the cities future.

The City Council is not a direct provider in this field, other than in schools and adult education. To build a better Birmingham we need everyone who invests in or delivers skills training or education to work on a city-wide vision.

That is exactly what I have been focused on delivering alongside our partners for the last 18 months.  We are on the cusp of launching the Birmingham Skills Vision, a strategic future plan co-produced across the sector and supported by the Institute for Social Inclusion.

This Vision will be the blueprint for addressing unemployment, mapping the future labour market, ensuring a join up between the training provided and the future jobs of the city and closing the skills gap.

There is a significant amount of money spent on skills and learning in this city, but it needs to be spent strategically and intelligently.  Ensuring we develop a Duel Skills system where vocational routes into employment are as accessible and valued as academic ones.

Last year I launched the Birmingham Youth Promise, guaranteeing an offer of employment, training, apprenticeships or work experience to all young people in Birmingham

But we need more than a commitment to young people we need to ensure that we are building a relevant future with them, one where there will be a job at the end of it.

The challenge in Birmingham is to address four key strands of work

Young people.  Ensuring they have the best career advice at school, are given life skills and shown the huge array of jobs that the city offers,  allowing them to make informed choices about their future and take the best pathway through education – and that the school or training provider they access are of the best quality.  Working with our partners in FE, training provision, education and the world of work this is how we will address the low skills base we currently have.

Those with additional needs.  70% of the city’s young people not in education, training or employment have extra challenges.  Whether a disability, being a looked after child or homeless.  We have to invest heavily both in term of money and time in these young people.  This is the only way we can change the future story of unemployment in Birmingham.

Adult unemployment.  Whilst we must recognise we are a young city, we have to support more adults into work.  Working closely with the DWP we are determined to support people back into work.  Not because unemployment is a dirty word and they need punishing, but because it is as simple as being in work fundamentally improves your life.

Investing in the current workforce.  We have to recognise that we will only address our skills shortage and in turn address the low wage issue by investing in our current workers.  Employers and providers need to recognise the value of upskilling their workforce and those already in work.

So there is a lot to be done, but we know what we need to do and are heading in the right direction, ensuring we have a partnership approach, intelligence-led investment and a system that invests in all people. The result will be a better trained future workforce, reduced unemployment, better quality of life, improved skill base and wages.

The plan is there, we need to get on with delivering it, and of course this is also our blueprint and challenge to the future Combined Authority and Government.