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West Midlands Local Skills Report Annex B - Evidence Base 2022

Local Labour market context

Key Findings
  • A rapid improvement in qualifications in
    the working-age population, with a rising proportion with advanced qualifications and a declining proportion with no qualifications, suggests a strong improvement in the region’s skill profile.

  • The steep rise in claimant count through the pandemic has, as a proportion, been greatest in more rural areas, and in the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP in general. On the other hand, the largest absolute increase in claimant numbers has been in the urban core.

While the region as a whole is more resilient than the UK average to an ageing population, the projected population changes are very uneven across the region in terms of both young and retirement-age people.

Qualifications and Deprivation

By overlaying the share of residents with no qualifications over a map of deprivation in the region, the strong correlation between the two is made clear.

Qualifications by Local Enterprise Partnership

Summarising the profile of qualifications across different NVQ levels shows that the trend in qualification levels in the West Midlands workforce has continued its optimistic trajectory in the last year, with steep declines expected in the proportion of the population with no qualifications, and a corresponding rise in higher qualification levels:


Qualification level (% with)
Black Country
Coventry and Warwickshire
Greater Birmingham and Solihull
NVQ4+ - aged 16-64 29.3 43.8 37.6 43.0
NVQ3+ - aged 16-64 17.8 19.2 19.8 18.2
NVQ2+ - aged 16-64 18.9 15.6 19.1 16.8
NVQ1+ - aged 16-64 11.5 10.1 9.8 9.6
other qualifications 9.9 5.7 5.6 5.8
no qualifications 12.9 5.5 8.1 6.6

Table 3: Summary of the percentage of West Midlands working-age population at each qualification level, by NVQ equivalent. 2020 data

There has been a slight drop at NVQ2 as more young people stay in education for longer, while levels 1, 3, and 4 have seen increases and the proportion with no qualifications has dropped significantly. For comparison, 2019 figures had a full 16.7% of Black Country with UK comparison working-age residents, and 7.3% and 10.0% of CWLEP and GBSLEP, with no qualifications. The large decrease is encouraging, but should be taken with caution until more data on post- covid mobility is available, for example from the upcoming 2021 Census.

Growth in Claimant Count during COVID-19 Pandemic:

Between January 2020 and October 2021, the steep rise in the number of people out of work and claiming benefits has been proportionally greater in areas not normally accustomed to high unemployment, particularly areas outside the region’s urban core.

The greatest absolute increase, however, has been in central Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, and the Black Country.

Claimant Count by Local Enterprise Partnership
This greater growth in less urban areas is reflected in the LEP-level totals, in which Coventry and Warwickshire has seen the largest increase since the beginning of the pandemic, with smaller and similar increases seen in Greater Birmingham and Solihull and the Black Country.


Local Enterprise Partnership jan 20 Nov 21 Increase (%)
Black Country 35,780 52,255 46.00
Coventry and Warwickshire  14,900 25,260 69.50
Greater Birmingham and solihull 61,490 91,245 48.40
West Midlands 3LEP 112,175 168,760  50.40

Table 4: Increase in claimant count since before the pandemic, by LEP area.

Trends in employments furloughed, through pandemic

The decline in employments furloughed in the West Midlands has closely followed the national trajectory, with the final count at the termination of the scheme in September 2021 a fraction of the peak. This suggests a successful re-absorption of furloughed employees back into the workforce.

Not in Employment, Education, or Training (NEET), and unknown status: In the West Midlands Region, 5.7% of 16 and 17-year-olds recorded by Local Authorities
as NEET. This was highest in Shropshire (10.3%) followed by Birmingham (8.5%). This represents a significant decrease on the 7.3% rate observed in 2016, though it is above the England average of 5.5% and well above the London (4.0%) and East of England (4.3%) rates.

Travel to Work

2011 Census travel-to-work data indicate commuting patterns in the region (shown in Figure 5 for jobs in Birmingham and Coventry respectively) that are largely within each individual LEP area. For instance, commuters to Birmingham are overwhelmingly travelling from within the GBSLEP area. Travel to work distance is more restricted in BCLEP, in part likely as a result of more limited transport infrastructure, as well as the structure of employment.

Comparison of income to house prices by
the ONS shows that housing affordability
has worsened most rapidly in areas where a significant number of people commute into the conurbation, notably Nuneaton & Bedworth (32.5%) and Rugby (23.4%), and Bromsgrove (29.0%). This may become a long-term constraint on attracting the necessary skills to the region.


Estimates by Emsi (shown in Figure 4) indicate the most common industries for people to be employed in in the West Midlands. The grey markers indicate the UK average for a population of the same size.

This chart showcases the region’s comparative advantage in motor vehicle trade and manufacturing as well as its jobs deficit in professional, technical, IT, and construction skills, all sectors identified in the Local Industrial Strategy as transformational sectors.

Key Sectors and Industrial Strategy

Several of these sectors were identified in the West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy and Strategic Economic plan as key in responding to technological change, and being major drivers of increased productivity and new employment:

Transformational sectors

  • advanced manufacturing
  • business, professional and financial services
  • construction (building technologies)
  • digital and creative
  • life sciences and social care
  • logistics and transport technologies
  • low carbon and environmental technologies

Enabling sectors

  • cultural economy including sport 
  • public sector including education
  • retail

New product and process innovations are likely to change both the composition of the regional economy in terms of sector breakdown, but also how work is performed within existing sectors. The following considerations will be important in linking the overall skills strategy to key sectors:

  • A confluence of factors coming together
    in the construction sector that will make support for radical innovation essential, in
    a sector which has been historically slow
    to innovate. The rising cost of housing,
    the need for a zero-carbon model of development, and current disruptions to international trade and commuting patterns, point to the need for a new model. It will be essential to create a tight connection between the region’s young people, knowledge infrastructure, and product and process innovation in the sector. Infrastructure for research and development and community-led testing, perhaps on the model of Boston’s Housing Innovation Lab, could go some way towards reconciling greater density, affordability, and liveability, as well as the pairing of local distinctiveness and technical resilience identified in the West Midlands Design Charter. The Charter sets out priorities for housing in the region including character, connectivity and mobility, future-readiness, health and wellbeing, engagement and stewardship, and delivery of social value. Determining whether the skills system supports the innovation system behind these goals would be a valuable exercise.
  • While manufacturing employment in the region outstrips the UK average, and is an area of comparative advantage, advances in automation and manufacturing techniques are likely to reduce employment and tilt the skills profile in favour of the higher skill levels which are currently in short supply. The need to develop and upskill existing manufacturing workers, and create alternate pathways which are compatible with their skills, will be essential in avoiding semi- skilled workers being left behind in the coming years.
  • Similar analysis will be essential in understanding the changes technology is driving in the services sector. There is growing interest in and use of data science and machine learning applications to improve business processes that do not fit cleanly into current occupational categories; it is essential that policy and funding are in place to bolster work-based training in these methods. University-industry linkages will be invaluable in leveraging these fields in broader systems innovation to improve service delivery in the region as well as radical innovation, entrepreneurship and the development of new products.

In the infrastructure sector, major projects in the region including HS2 are boosting demand and drawing on supply chains in the region; institutions such as the Advanced Transport and Infrastructure National College (NCATI) that give young people access to foundation and degree-level qualifications and future jobs in this sector will be essential to ensure there are viable pathways to good jobs via vocational education.

Projected Population Trends by Local Authority:

ONS forecasts of population increase across the West Midlands (3LEP) area below show distinct contrasts in how growth rates across local authorities will vary by age group. Particularly notable are:

  • Tamworth is the only Local Authority which can expect to see a decline in the total number of young people, while in other areas this age group is expected to grow, albeit slower than for the over-65s.

  • In East Staffordshire and Cannock Chase, huge discrepancies exist between the slow growth rate in the young and rapid growth rate expected for over-65s, a demographic crunch more representative of England in general than the urban core of the West Midlands, which is more insulated from these problems.

  • The best-placed Local Authorities in coping with these trends are Coventry, Bromsgrove, and Nuneaton and Bedworth, each of which has a smaller gap between the projected growth rate of the young and of retirees.

  • Recent uncertainty in terms of birth rates and post-covid fluctuations should give us caution in interpreting these trends.

Local authority 
% change (all ages)
% change (16-24)
% change (65+)
Birmingham 7.4 4.2 28.1
Bromsgrove 13.7 13.3 28.8
Cannock Chase 11.3 3.1 37.0
Coventry 16.9 12.4 24.6
Dudley 8.2 6.9 22.3
East Staffordshire 9.9 5.3 39.8
Lichfield 6.7 2.3 20.8
North Warwickshire 15.8 15.3 35.2
Nuneaton and Bedworth 11.8 13.4 24.2
Redditch 1.1 1.0 14.9
Rugby 13.2 13.4 24.2
Sandwell 9.5 7.9 32.9
Solihull 10.7 11.7 22.1
Stratford-on-Avon 20.9 15.4 39.5
Tamworth 0.1 -4.9 22.4
Walsall 11.1 12.5 24.8
Warwick 13.0 9.9 31.3
Wolverhampton 9.5 13.1 32.4
Wyre Forest 8.6 8.1 27.0

Summary of projected population growth between 2022 and 2042, by Local Authority.