Continued investment in training and skills is key for business survival in the current economic downturn, according to new research released by the West Midlands Regional Observatory.

The Regional Skills Assessment for 2008 reports that in the five-year period from 2003 to 2007, increased investment in skills and training significantly reduced skills shortages in the region.

This meant that employers could more easily access the skills they needed to develop and grow.

Historically, the West Midlands has lagged behind the rest of England in terms of skills performance.

But statistics show that from 2003 to 2007 the performance gap reduced from six percentage points to less than one per cent. Much of this improvement was due to a strong upturn in the number of employers investing in staff training, through apprenticeship programmes and initiatives such as the Learning & Skills Council’s Train to Gain.

But in the face of a worsening economic climate, there has been a marked slowdown in investment in training and skills, which raises significant concerns for the region. In the second and third quarters of 2008, planned investment in training by both the manufacturing and service sectors decreased significantly. Over the same period, recruitment difficulties and reports of skills shortages have increased.

Rosie Paskins, chief executive of the West Midlands Regional Observatory, said: “Investment in workforce training remains critical if West Midlands businesses are to have access to the skills they need to survive the downturn.

“In response to the needs of the region, the Observatory is producing regular updates on the impact of the downturn on the region’s skills and labour market. This will help guide policy makers and businesses in an ever changing economic climate. The updates will be published on the website.”

Based at Birmingham’s Millennium Point, the West Midlands Regional Observatory was established in 2002 to provide decision makers with independent information on the region.