Prioritising skills in Birmingham

Source: PSE April/May 2018

Paul Swinney, head of policy and research at Centre for Cities, argues that Birmingham must focus on addressing its skills deficit in order to thrive economically. 

For much of the late 20th century, Birmingham struggled to shake off its post-industrial hangover. Globalisation took a heavy toll on the city’s car and metal manufacturing industries, resulting in around 160,000 jobs being lost between 1951 and 1991. A big part of the problem was the city’s reliance on low-skilled, routinised roles, which could easily be shipped out to cheaper labour markets across the globe.

In recent decades, there have been signs that the city’s economy has turned a corner. Private sector jobs have increased significantly in the city centre since the turn of the century, reflected in the decision by big firms such as HSBC and Deutsche Bank to locate there.

However, Birmingham continues to punch below its weight economically – and once again, the main obstacle it faces is down to low skills levels across the city.

As a recent Centre for Cities report shows, Birmingham has the highest share of people with no qualifications of any UK city – 16% of working-age residents, which is twice as high as the national average.

Nor do the city’s skills challenges stop there, and Birmingham’s schools are also underperforming. For example, in 2015-16, just over half of students in Birmingham undertaking GCSEs gained A*-C in five or more subjects including English and Maths, less than the average across England.

Addressing these skills deficits will be crucial in ensuring that Birmingham can continue to attract more high-paying firms and jobs in the future, and to enable its residents to have the qualifications they need to benefit from such opportunities.

This should be a top priority for local leaders in the city – from the West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street to the city council and business leaders. And while short-term action is needed, tackling these problems will also require a long-term and joined-up commitment from agencies in the city.

What should be done? A good place to start would be to focus on improving early years education, which evidence suggests can have a lasting impact on a child’s life. Currently all two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are entitled to free early education, but uptake of this is patchy. Local leaders should encourage and support more children to benefit from this support by using local authority data to identify those in the city who are currently missing out, and making direct contact with their families.

Another crucial factor will be improving literacy and numeracy skills for people of all age ranges in Birmingham. There is no silver bullet for doing so, but raising teaching standards will have a positive impact, and so attracting and retaining talented teachers should be a priority. The West Midlands Combined Authority should work with the regional school commissioner, universities and Teach First to develop a city region framework that provides career progression opportunities and professional development to teachers in the area. Providing quality careers advice and support for young people in the city more generally will also be important, and Street’s mayoral mentoring scheme is a welcome step in the right direction.

The third key point to address is tackling adult skills levels – both for those already in the workplace, and those currently out of work. The mayor has recognised the need to tackle this issue, and has set out plans for a West Midlands Skills Fund based on the apprenticeship levy paid by firms in the city region. This could make a difference in ensuring the resources are available to provide better – and more extensive – training for adults across the city.

However, he currently lacks the scope to use the apprenticeship levy in this way. The government should build on the city region’s current devolution deal by giving the mayor and local leaders in Birmingham greater powers to act on this issue, and to tackle the city’s wider skills challenges.




There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment



public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

District and borough authorities begin challenge against Nottinghamshire super-council

20/07/2018District and borough authorities begin challenge against Nottinghamshire super-council

Gedling council members have emphatically outlined their stance against a potential mega-merger in Nottinghamshire that could see borough and dis... more >
Northamptonshire new CEO approved by Full Council to lead area through ‘unprecedented time of change’

20/07/2018Northamptonshire new CEO approved by Full Council to lead area through ‘unprecedented time of change’

Northamptonshire County Council’s new chief executive has been endorsed at the authority’s Full Council meeting yesterday, with the a... more >
‘Naming and shaming index’ for bankrupt councils fails to offer genuine solution

20/07/2018‘Naming and shaming index’ for bankrupt councils fails to offer genuine solution

An index designed to measure councils’ financial resilience in order to avoid another Northamptonshire-style fiasco would actually risk ove... more >
149x260 PSE Subscribe button

the raven's daily blog

One step closer to voter IDs at elections

19/07/2018One step closer to voter IDs at elections

Chloe Smith MP, Minister for the Constitution, evaluates the outcomes of the voter ID pilots conducted at the last local elections. We are one step closer to strengthening the integrity of our electoral system through requiring electors to confirm their identity before they vote, building on the government’s commitment to safeguard ... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >


Data at the heart of digital transformation

03/04/2018Data at the heart of digital transformation

SPONSORED INTERVIEW Grant Caley, UK & Ireland chief technologist at NetApp, speaks to PSE’s Luana Salles about the benefits of movin... more >
GDPR: The public sector scarecrow

03/04/2018GDPR: The public sector scarecrow

SPONSORED INTERVIEW PSE’s Josh Mines chats to Martin de Martini, CIO of Y Soft, about what the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)... more >
Keeping London safe

05/03/2018Keeping London safe

Theo Blackwell, London’s first-ever chief digital officer (CDO), speaks to PSE’s Luana Salles about the role he plays in ensuring the... more >
BIM: Digitising the public sector

19/02/2018BIM: Digitising the public sector

PSE’s Josh Mines talks to Stephen Crompton, CTO at GroupBC, and Stuart Bell, the company’s sales and marketing director, about how Bu... more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

public sector focus

LGO upholds 60% of investigations against councils

12/07/2018LGO upholds 60% of investigations against councils

Article by Callum Wood of Public Sector Magaz... more >
Foehn achieves UK Government G-Cloud 10 Certification

05/07/2018Foehn achieves UK Government G-Cloud 10 Certification

Foehn's Rafael Cortes tells PSE abo... more >