Regional Skills Assessment 2008: key issues for individuals and communities

Student common room at Aston UniversityWe produce the Regional Skills Assessment each year, providing commentary on the changing labour market to inform the work of a wide range of organisations.

In this article, I’m highlighting key issues for individuals and communities from our skills assessment work in 2008.

There have been significant local and sub-regional variations in skills and labour market trends and issues in recent years. In particular:

Some parts of the region have benefited significantly from employment growth in recent years. There have been notable benefits in:

  • Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Solihull: driven principally by growth in business & professional services.
  • Birmingham: driven principally by growth in employment in hotels & catering and public administration, off-setting falling employment in engineering.
  • Wolverhampton: driven principally by growth in education and construction.

Meanwhile areas such as Sandwell, Walsall and Coventry have been been disproportionately affected by job shedding in engineering (notably motor vehicles, and electrical and mechanical engineering).

Stoke-on-Trent and Dudley have been affected by significant falls in employment in other manufacturing industries (for example ceramics and other mineral products).

Urban centres

At the same time the ‘available for work’ population in the West Midlands’ urban centres is becoming younger and more ethnically diverse. The main minority ethnic groups in the region are of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean origin along with other white ethnic groups, which have been boosted as significant numbers of migrant workers from Eastern Europe have arrived in the region. Currently, only London has greater diversity.

However, they are less likely to be in employment, education and training or attain good qualifications. This has a knock on effect within the adult population with a high proportion of the 19+ population in these areas having no formal qualifications and the gap in attainment between poorer performing urban areas and better performing parts of the region is widening year on year.

Chart: Proportion of the working age population in West Midlands aged 19 or over with no qualifications in 2007. Source: APS 2007. View at full size.

Barriers to participation in employment

A lack of appropriate skills and qualifications is acting as a barrier to participation in employment with much lower employment rates in urban areas. Employment rates are low even in Birmingham and Wolverhampton where significant new jobs have been created in recent years.

In response to these challenges, the West Midlands Skills Action Plan calls for a step change in the region’s skills performance, based on meeting the targets set in the Leitch Review of Skills.

These are very ambitious targets. By 2020 more than 420,000 additional more working age adults need to have attained level 1 or above in literacy, nearly 570,000 more need to have attained entry level 3 or above in numeracy, nearly 700,000 more need to be qualified to level 2 or above and more than 400,000 more need to be qualified to level 4 or above.

The size of the challenge is particularly significant for a number of the region’s urban areas where rates of qualification attainment are currently particularly low with regard to the level 2 targets and especially the level 4 targets.


While accounting for a growing share of the region’s working age population, the region’s disadvantaged groups and communities perform poorly relative to regional and national trends in terms of participation on education and training, qualification attainment and accessing employment. The scale of the challenge to close the gap with the national average and better performing regions is considerable.

There is a danger that these groups may lag further behind in the future, with those who are already relatively well qualified continuing to be the most likely to invest in their skills and qualification levels. As a result employment rates are likely to remain low in the region’s urban centres even where significant numbers of new jobs are being created. As a result policies to help those marginalised in the labour market to access education, training and employment need to be prioritised to both ensure that they share in the benefits of economic and employment growth and to ensure that employers are able to meet their labour and skills needs in the future.

Let us know what you think

Do you have any views on the key skills issues for the region? Add a comment and let us know.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: