Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry has joined forces with the CBI West Midlands to support a new initiative to help improve the skills of workers in the region.
The Skills Pledge is a voluntary public commitment made by business leaders to help employees improve their skills and gain new qualifications.
Since its launch last year, more than 500 of the largest UK employers have committed. The Chamber and the CBI aim to encourage more of their members to sign up to the agreement.
The initiative is via the Train To Gain scheme, which helps up-skill employees at little or no additional expense to their employers.
Kay Greenbank, director of employment and skills at Birmingham Chamber, said: "If the UK is to compete in a global economy – and the emerging markets in Eastern Europe and Asia – we need to invest more in skills.
"Without a better skilled and qualified workforce, we will not improve our productivity. A skilled workforce improves our ability to innovate and develop new technologies. This is something we have been traditionally good at in the UK and sets us apart from low-cost, low-skill countries." The initiative comes as the West Midlands unveils its own Skills Action Plan today.
It is being launched by Minister for the West Midlands Liam Byrne with Advantage West Midlands and the Learning and Skills Council. Birmingham Chamber has already thrown its weight behind the scheme and wants to ensure the plan works with employers to make sure they get the skilled staff they need.
Ms Greenbank added: "There is no getting away from the fact that 70 per cent of the labour market of 2020 has already left statutory education.
"In the West Midlands almost 50,000 new jobs will be created and another million will need to be refilled over the next 10 years, all against a trend towards fewer low-skilled jobs, and more jobs requiring degree-level skills, and above. That is why we need a culture of lifelong learning, and to make it as easy as possible for people to access training, and for it to be affordable and relevant to their employers.
"The West Midlands has additional challenges in that the traditional manufacturing base, although still important, is reducing in size and being replaced by more niche manufacturing and high-tech industries, and the service sector. We need to make sure people have the appropriate levels of numeracy, literacy and IT skills for the jobs of the future, and a range of other transferable skills, so they can find employment in a range of fields.
"Of greatest importance is the development of more higher level skills, that is degree and above, so that we can tackle the productivity gap between this region and the rest of the UK – currently estimated at £10 billion."