Major investment into attracting professional jobs to Birmingham is “ghettoising” a generation of low-skilled youngsters, according to a former Chamber of Commerce boss.
Dr Derrick Campbell, who runs Race Equality Sandwell, believes local policy makers are too focused on attracting knowledge-intensive firms at the expense of firms offering low-skilled jobs to a large part of the population.
The former chief executive of Sandwell Chamber of Commerce said: “We need to be honest about this debate.
“There are two Birminghams – there’s Colmore Row and then there are places like Aston and Lozells where people are in poverty, have no aspirations, no education and many have CRBs. We need to be clear about attracting jobs for people who don’t have education.”
His comments come as the latest statistics for the region show youth unemployment stands at 23 per cent, almost four times the rate for all people of working age, and the third highest level among UK regions.
City constituencies such as Ladywood, Hodge Hill and Hall Green top the list of unemployment blackspots on a national level. Dr Campbell said there was not enough political will to attract or create jobs which were suitable for people living in these areas.
“We have got to look at low-entry jobs – we’ve got to attract those jobs into the city and we’ve got to ensure that those jobs are there for them to get on the ladder. While they are in work, we need to then work with them to raise their skills and get them upwardly mobile. But if we cater for just the elite group, that’s not going to bridge the gap.”
He said although the city needed a balance of job types, it was unrealistic to think that by focusing on the knowledge economy for inward investment it would result in significantly lower unemployment among Birmingham residents.
“You are talking about the top 10 per cent and ignoring the others,” he said. “We’re spending millions to attract very few high-paying professional jobs, whereas we should be paying millions to upskill the vast majority who aren’t at that level.’’
Dr Campbell was speaking following a Birmingham Future debate which looked at the barriers preventing young people in deprived areas from achieving their potential in the professional services sector.
Birmingham City Council said it was one of its key priorities to ensure inward investment benefited everyone. Shilpi Akbar, assistant director of regeneration at the council, said: “We have written into the planning process requirements that developers must engage with our Employment Access Team as part of any application, often resulting in legally binding requirements regarding local employment and training provision.
“Such arrangements have led directly to 63 per cent of staff recruited to a new Tesco Superstore in Aston being drawn from local unemployed people and a commitment to train and employ 250 previously unemployed people on the Library of Birmingham project.
“We also have explicit agreements in place on projects such as New Street Station (500 jobs), Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust and East End Foods (85 jobs) that recruitment will be directed toward the city’s “Super Output Areas” – areas of highest unemployment – which includes Aston and Lozells.”
Donna Codrington, chairwoman of the diversity committee of Birmingham Future and an employment law solicitor at DLA Piper, said that as well as the inward investment question, it was vital to work on raising aspirations of schoolchildren.
Birmingham Future works with schools and has arranged for a variety of professionals to give talks to pupils about the kinds of careers available if they did well in exams.
“Alongside the inward investment focus, there should also be a focus on educating and inspiring Birmingham children,” she said. “Moseley School was concerned that their students are localised. They don’t go into the city centre and if you ask them what they want to do, they say things like ‘open a mobile phone shop.’ This is about improving the visibility of professional jobs.”