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Tackling skills gap ‘crucial’ to Birmingham’s economy

The future economic success of Birmingham will be “seriously constrained” unless action is taken to address its skills gap, a think tank has warned.

A report published by Centre for Cities today has revealed that Birmingham faces a number of significant skills challenges which, if left unaddressed, will adversely affect the city’s economic growth.

It highlights that skill levels are a crucial factor in determining the strength of a city’s economic performance, with places with a highly skilled population being more productive, boasting higher average wages and better employment levels.

According to the report, Birmingham has the highest proportion of people with no qualifications of any UK city, with 16% of working aged residents having no formal qualifications - double the national average.

The city’s schools are underperforming, with just 53% of students in Birmingham gaining five or more GCSEs of grades A*-C in subjects including maths and english, which is considered a strong indicator of future job prospects. The average across England is 58%.

However, the research does note that Birmingham attracts high numbers of new students and has the sixth highest graduate retention rate of any UK city, with 49% staying in the city to work after university in 2014 and 2015.

The think tank has called for action from national and local leaders to improve skills levels across all age ranges in the city, and to increase its number of high skilled firms and jobs, which the report claims will be crucial to strengthen the city’s economy.

Recommendations include improving literacy and numeracy skills amongst school students of all ages, giving local leaders more powers and resources to support working age residents to gain training and qualifications, and to continue to support the resurgence in the city centre, improving the transport and quality of the built environment.

Commenting on the findings, Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “Birmingham has seen some really positive economic developments in recent years, from the transformation of its city centre to its success in attracting companies such as HSBC and Deutsche Bank.

“But the city will need to secure many more of these kinds of firms and jobs to get its economy firing on all cylinders.

“Moreover, too many people in the city lack the qualifications they need to benefit from these opportunities.”

He explained that tackling the city’s skills gaps is “crucial” in ensuring that its economy can continue to grow, which he said should be a “top priority” for national and local leaders: “That means taking steps to improve the performance of schools across the city, and give children and young people the skills they need to thrive as they get older.

“It also means putting more focus on adult education and lifelong learning, to help people move into work and access better-paid jobs.”

He called on the government to give the city’s mayor, Andy Street, and local leaders more powers and resources to tackle the skills challenges faced by the city: “Doing so will be crucial in enabling Birmingham to realise its economic potential, which will help to increase prosperity for the millions of people living across the city, and for the country as a whole.”

PSE has approached Birmingham City Council for comment.

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