Andy Street: Conservative leadership is helping West Midlands fill its long-standing skills gap – News Block

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands and former CEO of John Lewis.

In the West Midlands, we know how upskilling can help build a strong economy. Before the pandemic struck, we were growing faster than any other part of the UK outside of London. We had record job numbers and were setting home construction and productivity records.

Our skills approach played a major role in that success, and now, as we move forward to rebuild our economy, we’re about to take a big step forward with our most comprehensive skills enhancement program yet.

In this column, I’ll explain this historic scheme, how giving back allows us to train our residents for the future, and how conservative leadership is making real improvements in a skills gap that has persisted for generations.

Make no mistake, in the past, our region has faced a great challenge. In 2007, this was considered to be the lowest-skilled region of the UK, with a fifth of young people leaving school with no qualifications. Since then, a lot of work has been done to fill the skills gap. Our trajectory speaks for itself.

Since 2019, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has delegated control of the region’s £130m adult education budget: it funds further education providers and works with them to equip people with the skills they need. they really need employers. Investment in Level 3 training here increased from £4.4m to £37m a year.

This has been achieved through a combination of re-prioritizing the existing adult education budget and securing new funding for the region, including £15m for skills bootcamps in 2022/23 and £6m of funding for the Courses programme. free for a job As a result, tens of thousands of residents benefit from valuable qualifications and businesses see universities launch courses that will have a real impact on the job market.

In 2020, the number of people with NVQ Level 3+ qualifications in our seven counties increased by 120,000 to 1,444,000. At the same time, the number of people without qualifications decreased by 66,700 to 223,800, a decrease of 23 percent.

More than 65,000 people have been trained in the last year alone, and more people are earning NVQ qualifications than ever before. Backed with £150 million from the Government, the courses provide training in everything from clean energy and construction to digital skills and heavy vehicle driving.

Perhaps the best example of our success has been our ‘bootcamp’ concept, offering flexible funded courses of up to 16 weeks, giving people the opportunity to develop industry-specific skills and start a new career. They are designed to ensure that adults can retrain and improve whatever their starting point, providing a clear line of site for a new role, opportunity or contract.

More than 30 digital bootcamps have been piloted across the region, while our modernization bootcamps are empowering people to find jobs in an ever-growing sector as we aim to achieve our goal of making nearly 300,000 homes across the region are energy efficient.

These bootcamps lead to employment: figures show that 72% of people who completed digital bootcamps and 100% of students in refresher bootcamps landed a job. A further £15.5m in funding has been committed to support new bootcamps over the next three years, meaning more than 4,000 residents can be supported to find work.

Now, it’s time to go even further. Our latest program shows a sea change in ambition, representing our most comprehensive scheme yet. The WMCA has increased the threshold for free job training by £12,000, meaning anyone with an average regional salary of £30,000 or less can access free Tier 3 training.

This is the UK’s most generous free job training offer and should improve life chances for vast numbers of people. On average, jobs in the West Midlands that require Level 3 qualifications earn £4,000 more each year.

Why are we doing this now? In the short term, to boost post-COVID employment. But we also look towards the future needs of employers. According to the University of Birmingham, by 2040, the West Midlands is expected to see a 40 per cent drop in manufacturing jobs and increased demand for professional and technical skills in a variety of sectors. Clearly, aggressive reskilling and upgrading are vital to meeting the demands of companies as they transition to new business models.

We know there are jobs in sectors including construction, digital, and health and social care, but local people need the right skills to do them. Decentralized funding for adult education means we can equip residents with those skills. It’s about using local knowledge to understand where the demand for jobs will be and then being in control of spending to invest in the required training.

And we must be aggressive. Despite all this work, the scars of years of underinvestment in skills linger here. Data from the 2021 census suggests that the West Midlands overall has the highest proportion of unskilled residents, with 21.1 per cent (one million people) without skills. That compares with a national average of 18.2 percent. This is unacceptable.

Much remains to be done, and our latest comprehensive training plan illustrates our determination to unleash the power of delegated decision-making. These powers are growing too: the groundbreaking deeper devolution agreement we recently signed will give us more power over non-learning adult skills and post-16 technical education. This represents another piece in the puzzle. Bridging the skills gap means working together, across all age groups, with both universities and employers.

Ultimately, the West Midlands’ renewal is being driven by investment, with inward investment being attracted to talent, so a properly trained workforce is key to generating new business and opportunities. The remarkable levels of investment we have attracted, in sectors such as technology, transport, media and life sciences, show that we are building a magnetic pool of talent. Our region recently overtook the UK in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) out of London, with over 180 projects creating 8,250 jobs in the space of a year.

Better skills not only improve the purchasing power of families, but also boost aspiration, social mobility and ambition, while rewarding hard workers – all core conservative values. We have always been the Party of Opportunity, and skills must be central to that thinking. Here in the West Midlands, under Conservative leadership, we are showing that those values ​​do work.

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