A £157 million programme to help the West Midlands' most marginalised groups find work has been launched today.
The money, from the European Social Fund and cofinanced by the Learning and Skills Council, aims to help about 150,000 people in the region.
Those benefiting will include the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, lone parents, homeless people, exoffenders and people lacking the basic skills needed to get a job.
The grant will be spent on creating opportunities for these groups to improve their employability and gain access to lifelong learning.
Projects run as part of the programme will also work closely with employers to develop workplace flexibility and promote entrepreneur-ship as well as enhancing skills research and increasing competitiveness.
In addition, the funding will help to improve access for women returning to the labour market, while increasing equal opportunities and social inclusion for all.
Sarah Tulk, regional ESF manager from the LSC, said: "One of the biggest challenges facing businesses is the lack of skilled workers, but it is also widely acknowledged that there are vast sources of potential employees that industry is failing to tap into.
"This project is designed to help those groups to get qualifications and eventually find work.
"As well as benefiting businesses, and therefore the economy, the scheme will also help local communities and social groups.
"Despite being organised regionally, the project will make full use of the region's network of LSCs, as well as JobCentre Plus, to make sure it is fully in touch with the communities that will be so vital to its success."
The project is the first of its kind in the UK to adopt a regional co-financing approach, with all six LSCs joining together to match-fund the programme.
The funding will be spent by 2008, with 55 per cent of the funding provided by the LSCs regionally and the other £157 million coming from the ESF. Among those to benefit is the Coventry and Warwick-shire Construction Training Partnership, run by Whitefriars Services, which will receive £1.2 million and Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce's £1.4 million skills solutions project. ..SUPL: