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

Council leaders to unite in bid for £1.3bn growth deal

18/05/2018Council leaders to unite in bid for £1.3bn growth deal

Leaders of all six councils in the North of Wales have come together to bid for a £1.3bn boost in funding for the region. Anglesey, Gw... more >
Grenfell: review into combustable cladding falls short, LGA warns

17/05/2018Grenfell: review into combustable cladding falls short, LGA warns

The independent review of building regulations, conducted following the Grenfell tragedy, has stopped short of proposing a ban on flammable claddin... more >
Dorset merger to go ahead as government rejects 'absurd' challenge

17/05/2018Dorset merger to go ahead as government rejects 'absurd' challenge

A legal challenge submitted by Christchurch Borough Council against the planned merger of Dorset local authorities has been labelled as “an... more >
149x260 PSE Subscribe button

the raven's daily blog

The complexities of Brexit and the hunt for exceptional data scientists

16/04/2018The complexities of Brexit and the hunt for exceptional data scientists

Christopher Gallagher, public sector – SAS, says it’s imperative that organisations have the most experienced data scientists at hand. The Civil Service is feeling immense Brexit stress. Making the right decisions, analysing the ‘best interests’ of the nation as a whole, as well as discrete segments of the populati... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >


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 >
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 >
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

The legacy of Grenfell

30/04/2018The legacy of Grenfell

PSE’s Seamus McDonnell looks at the rea... more >
Inquiry warns of ‘lack of transparency’ around child sexual abuse failures

27/04/2018Inquiry warns of ‘lack of transparency’ around child sexual abuse failures

There has been a “lack of transparency&rd... more >