Investment in higher level skills needed to kick start the region’s recovery

Person sat next to computer screens at Serious Games Institute, Coventry UniversityInvestment in higher level skills is vital to kick start the region’s recovery from recession but the proportion of the workforce qualified to degree level or above is well below the national average, particularly in the private sector.

New research (pdf, 258kb) by the West Midlands Regional Observatory shows that overall investment in skills and training is holding up despite the recession.

In the first quarter of 2009, three quarters of manufacturing firms and 80% of service sector firms were planning to either increase or maintain levels of spending on training despite the recession – in both cases the second highest proportion in England.

This largely reflects a healthy uptake of initiatives like Train to Gain, Apprenticeships, the Skills Pledge and the Public Sector Skills Challenge.

At the same time more young people in the region are gaining good qualifications at school and going on to college, university or work based training.

In 2008, 46% of 15 year olds achieved 5 or more GCSEs at A*–C including maths and English. This is up from 43% in 2007 and only 2 points behind the national average.

The proportion of 16–17 year olds going on to full time education or work-based learning now matches the national average.

However, the West Midlands still lags behind in terms of investment in higher level skills. These are becoming increasingly important to help employers to move into higher value added products, services and markets—and to kick start the region’s recovery from recession:

The region continues to perform poorly in terms of the recruitment and development of highly skilled workers.

In 2008 only 23% of people working for private sector firms had higher level skills and qualifications. This is down on 24% in 2007 and compares with 30% in the South East and 45% in London.

While the number of employees acquiring higher level skills via a vocational route is increasing, this is at a slower rate than in many other regions.

Growth in the take up of foundation degrees of 18% between 2006/07 and 2007/08 compares with 30% in the East Midlands and 31% in Yorkshire and the Humber, for example.

The proportion of graduates opting to stay in the West Midlands to live and work after completing their studies is falling—from 65% in 2005/06 to 64% in 2006/07.

This article is based on a detailed review of latest movements in the Observatory’s framework of regional skills performance indicators, due to be published in August 2009.

A series of charts are available from our initial findings (pdf, 259kb) presented to the Regional Skills Partnership Data Group on 20th May 2009.

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