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West Midlands Local Skills Report 2022

Chapter 1: Foreword Chair of the Skills Advisory Board

A high performing labour market has a crucial role to play in enabling local people, businesses and the wider West Midlands economy to flourish and thrive. The West Midlands Regional Skills Plan (RSP), published in 2018, details how the West Midlands CombinedAuthority (WMCA), working with key partners, is seeking to support that ambition.

Our focus is on securing stronger and more inclusive regional growth. Put simply, we want to deliver a better match between the skills of the people in our region and the current and future needs of our businesses, to accelerate productivity and deliver economic growth. We want to make sure more people have the skills they need to enter and progress in work.

Many parts of our region have longstanding challenges to overcome, with well-rehearsed issues of high unemployment, low pay, skills shortages, and limited social mobility. However, our opportunities are many too. The region has a young and diverse population, a strong Higher Education base and many Good and Outstanding schools, colleges and training providers.

Prior to the pandemic, the region’s economy experienced unprecedented growth with rising productivity, jobs and employment – at levels that exceeded the rest of the UK. W saw growth in high value-added sectors, new investment and infrastructure, and a growing digital capability.

But the pandemic hit the West Midlands region hard – in part because of its dependency on automotive, aerospace, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality sectors. A high number of workers in the region were furloughed to the end of the scheme. We experienced significant job losses and large numbers of benefit claimants.

The pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities within the region, resulting in higher levels of unemployment in areas such as East Birmingham and higher youth unemployment in places such as Wolverhampton. Young people and those from BME communities were hit hardest – particularly those least qualified and living in areas with already high levels of unemployment and deprivation.

The West Midlands economy is now beginning to recover, with employment levels rising, unemployment below pre-pandemic levels, and record vacancies. But significant challenges remain and there is no room for complacency. Many of our employers are reporting significant labour and skills shortages, and while some parts of the region have bounced back, others are recovering much more slowly, with the risk that some people and places are left behind and unable to share in the benefits of recovery.

There is much good work already underway to address these challenges. The flexibilities afforded through devolution have enabled us to take a collaborative systems approach to ensure that skills provision is strategically aligned to regional economic need. We have been able to respond quickly to current labour market needs and invested in new provision linked to emerging demand. As a result, we have seen a 7-fold increase in level 3 provision and a 33% increase in provision aligned to regional priority sectors – with a 20% increase in job outcomes across our offer. Now, more than ever, we need an agile and responsive skills system that equips residents with the skills needed to find, and progress at, work, and provides employers with the skills needed to secure long-term economic success.

This Local Skills Report has been developed in line with the Department for Education’s (DfE) Skills Advisory Panel (SAP) guidance, to provide a key source of information of the local skills needs of the West Midlands, enable national comparison and help feed local skills intelligence to central government, as well as being a source for local stakeholders. The report will support the WMCA and its partners to capitalize on opportunities and improve skills and productivity in the region to deliver more inclusive economic success. The evidence base underpinning this report  has been developed with strong employer input and with key partners including Local Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Colleges, Universities, training providers and the Black Country, Greater Birmingham & Solihull and Coventry and Warwickshire Chambers of Commerce.