Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street has promised every young person the support they need to get an apprenticeship or training opportunity in a bid to cut youth unemployment in the region.
The Mayor launched the West Midlands Apprenticeship Promise for all 16 to 24-year-olds alongside a new Progression Coaches pilot, announced by Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, at a Digital Opportunities Fair at the Library of Birmingham.
And the Apprenticeship Promise has already gained the backing of Baroness Karren Brady, star of BBC series The Apprentice, which returned to TV last night.
Young people discuss digital career options at the Digital Opportunities Fair at the Library of Birmingham
Mayor Andy Street said: "The West Midlands economy is thriving. We have seen record levels of investment and job creation, we are positioning ourselves as a digital leader for the future, and the region has recently been chosen as a testbed for new 5G technology.
"Yet despite this, we still face challenging levels of youth unemployment, and not enough young people are being connected to these new opportunities generated by our economic growth.
"That’s why the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is saying 'You’re hired!' to every young person aged 16 to 24 in the West Midlands. We’re making a firm commitment to all young people - no matter who you are, or where you live in our region, we promise you will have access to a good apprenticeship or training opportunity.”
The promise will start as a pilot in Birmingham before being applied to the wider West Midlands area.
To provide extra support to get young people into work, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has agreed to fund ten new progression coaches.
The coaches will work exclusively with young unemployed people in the West Midlands to help them find and secure job opportunities, training or apprenticeships. They will have a particular focus on young people who currently experience the most challenges in accessing the labour market, including those who lack good qualifications, and those, like care leavers and young homeless, who may need particular support.
The programme will also target young people from working class backgrounds who may lack access to the wide range of professional and technical roles available in the region.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, said: "We must inspire and excite the next generation of school leavers and job seekers. From these new mentors, they’ll discover the world of work, the opportunities available to them, and be given practical advice to start on this journey.
"The West Midlands has the fastest employment growth in the UK and there are currently record vacancies in the economy, ensuring there are jobs available for young people to enter into.
"I am delighted to launch this partnership with Andy Street, here in the West Midlands, helping young people not only to find the jobs they want, but also build successful careers."
Baroness Karren Brady CBE has backed the Apprenticeship Promise. She said: "Apprenticeships are a great way to gain real work experience, a nationally-recognised qualification, and earn while you learn.
"On TV, apprentices have to pass a series of tough tests before getting their golden opportunity. In the real-world, it’s much easier to find a rewarding apprenticeship – especially in the West Midlands, thanks to the Apprenticeship Promise.
"Not everyone wants to study for an academic degree. Apprenticeships offer a viable alternative and open the doors to a range of exciting new careers. We want you to hear those magic words: You’re hired!"
The announcement comes just days after Chancellor Philip Hammond told the Conservative Party Conference that the amount of apprenticeships available would be expanded, and that businesses would have greater flexibility to transfer up to 25 per cent of their Apprenticeship Levy funds to businesses in their supply chain from April 2019.
The Digital Opportunities Fair saw students from West Midlands schools and colleges, and a group of homeless and unemployed young people, getting to grips with virtual reality headsets, augmented reality programmes, robots, cyber security and video games design as part of a showcase of the exciting digital careers available in the region.
The West Midlands is the UK's largest tech/digital centre outside London – there were 13,455 digital technology businesses in the region in 2016, compared to just 8,430 in third-placed Greater Manchester.
The Mayor added: "The West Midlands is the place to be for digital. I think we’re the best place in the country for digital businesses and skilled digital employees – that’s one of the reasons we’re the UK’s testbed for new super-fast 5G internet.
"Statistically, we’re second only to London – but by helping young people to get digital skills and find great digital careers, we’ll continue to grow our digital sector into a world leader. By 2030, we expect 29,000 more jobs in the digital and creative sectors, making a contribution of £8.3bn to our regional economy."
Employers at the event included PricewaterhouseCoopers, Lloyds Bank, University Hospital Birmingham and Arup, each showcasing their technology, digital jobs and apprenticeship opportunities.
The University of Birmingham, Coventry University, Aston University, Dudley College and Walsall College also took part to highlight their range of digital qualifications and courses.
PricewaterhouseCoopers has recently launched a computer science degree apprenticeship in conjunction with the University of Birmingham.
James Hampshire, PwC tech champion for the Midlands, said: "We see our computer science degree apprenticeship with the University of Birmingham as a way to get more young people from across society to be part of this exciting technological change and to equip them with the skills to be the business leaders of the future.
"People often perceive that all the tech talent needs to be in London, but with a growing specialist tech team here in the Midlands we are opening up the opportunities to people who may have thought that university or technology careers were out of their reach."
For more information about the Apprenticeship Promise, a gallery of photographs and video from the Digital Opportunities Fair, please visit: https://www.wmca.org.uk/westmidlandsapprenticeshippromise