Birmingham Economic Review 2018: The skills pipeline

Greater Birmingham Professional Services Academy, BMet

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce to provide insight on the findings of the Birmingham Economic Review. The Birmingham Economic Review 2018 is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and is a high quality resource for organisations seeking to understand Birmingham to inform research, policy or investment decisions. This post is featured in the full report and report summary here.

“You must either modify your dreams or magnify your skills.”

Wise words from the American Entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn.  As a region, our dreams have been fast becoming a reality: we continue to attract international businesses to locate within our commercial hubs; our arts, cultural and hospitality offering mirrors that of many European counterparts; and our confidence is growing as we play a bigger part on the international stage through securing high profile activity such as the Commonwealth Games.

With such huge strides under our belt, the last thing the West Midlands region wants to do now is modify our dreams. Therefore, to continue to grow, prosper and be a region of economic and social prosperity we HAVE to magnify our skills.

We all know this: “skills, skills, skills” is the main discussion topic and many a business roundtable and report from leading thinkers across the region, including the West Midlands Combined Authority, have identified our region’s ability to grow and retain our own talent as a potential constraint.  It’s business critical.

With high numbers of our residents in low paid jobs, we must ensure that all communities benefit from the region’s economic growth. Training, personal development, education need to be available to everyone in our region: young and old.  Achieving this requires an agile and responsive skills system comprised of education and business partnerships.

The key words here are agile and responsive. We need to deliver on our skills pledges and promises and we need to do it quickly. A glance at the figures confirms this. At the moment, not only does the West Midlands region have an unemployment rate above the national average, it has also got the lowest employment rate of any of the mayoral combined authorities.

Add to this the employer uncertainty fuelled by Brexit and migration figures continuing to show an increase in EU workers leaving without being replaced by new ones coming in and people may think that we should be pressing the panic button on skills shortages.

However, if we look around us, we know that change is happening.  Partnerships between business and all areas of education are growing and becoming stronger and stronger. For example, we are still home to the UK’s first and only Professional Services Academy run by BMet, which reflects the critical role that Further Education can play in driving up skills and productivity in partnership with business.  

The Academy based at BMet’s Matthew Boulton College in central Birmingham, provides workshops, a mentor programme and real work experience to students in partnership with leading firms from the financial, legal, accounting and business community who are committed to fostering the professional talent of the city for potential future employment in their sectors.

Through our partnerships with Birmingham City Council, West Midlands Growth Company we have helped one business grow its workforce by over 380 people whilst simultaneously providing training to over 600 people in just 26 months.

These are just two examples of a plethora of activity taking place throughout the region.  There are many schemes and initiatives now all working actively to grow our own talent. With programmes now scoping how they can maximise changes in the apprenticeship landscape, including the apprenticeship levy, to train and develop both new and current staff.

So, the activity is happening, the dream is becoming a reality. The call to action now to us all is clear: we need to magnify our efforts to magnify our skills.

Suzie Branch-Haddow
Business Development Director
Greater Birmingham Professional Services Academy, BMet