03Policy priority 3: A longer term vision

Helping people back into work

  • Encourage more key employers to work directly with schools and skills providers to give residents a second chance to access job-ready skills.
  • Challenge firms to offer high quality in-work training to ensure workers are best placed to thrive, and firms are as innovative and productive as possible.
  • Work with local universities, using them as a hub to improve the skills of local residents and businesses.

The biggest long term concern for the West Midlands’ first metro mayor must be the city region’s very low employment rate (only 65 per cent of residents have a job compared with 74 per cent nationally). To address this, the metro mayor should give residents a ‘second chance’ to access jobs, education or training. It will take a long term, rounded approach to improve the chances of many residents to access these jobs, but success would transform their opportunities and improve the city region’s economic performance.

Get more key employers to work directly with schools and skills providers

For the 61,000 residents who are looking for work in the West Midlands, and the 47 per cent leaving school without sufficient qualifications (five good GCSEs), the opportunities to enter the labour market will remain limited if they do not have the right skills. The metro mayor therefore should be making the most of examples such as the Inspiring Tomorrow’s Engineers programme and Manufacturers Technology Centre,3 and encourage more firms to work closely with schools, further education colleges and skills providers to open up clear career pathways and practical skills.

It is also important for the metro mayor to cast their net further than any specific industry. The mayor should ensure that those who do not have the right skills can access them, launching a second chance programme with an emphasis on providing accessible, flexible learning that equips residents currently outside the labour market with job-ready skills to help them into work.

Challenge firms to offer high quality in-work training

Research shows there is a greater tendency for individuals in the UK to develop the skills most relevant for their job in the workplace.4 This means that ensuring employers are investing in training is crucial. The metro mayor should be challenging firms to develop career pathways and offering opportunities for existing workers to develop their skills and retrain.

Work with local universities and businesses to increase the demand for high level skills

A 2013 UKCES survey of firms in the West Midlands showed they struggle to recruit the high skilled workers they need due to a shortage of qualified applicants to fill the positions. This is also reflected in the proportion of high skilled residents: only 28 per cent of residents in the city region have a degree, compared with 37 per cent nationally. The metro mayor can act as a convenor, making the most of the West Midlands’ 10 universities to develop residents’ higher level skills. The mayor should be using these institutions as bases and hubs to work with local businesses in the area and develop residents’ skills. This could mean hosting courses with local businesses, capitalising on expertise or utilising universities’ networks.

By supporting businesses to work with colleges, universities and skills providers, and encouraging more training pathways within companies, the metro mayor can improve the options for residents, and the labour pool for businesses. This will take time but can be set in motion during the first term by the metro mayor setting a visible and important challenge for firms throughout the city region to take a significant and meaningful role in skills development.


  • 3 ITE refers to Jaguar Land Rover’s work with local schools, while the MTC is a partnership between businesses, academia and other institutions
  • 4 See UKCES (2012) //www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/304873/Engaging_low_skilled_employees_evidence_ report_43.pdf. And Clayton, N (2015) centreforcities.org/blog/skills-and-cities-10-years-of-change/