The West Midlands is in danger of becoming an unskilled economy unless there is more emphasis on vocational training, a leading environmental group has warned.
Groundwork West Midlands said the drive to turn the region into a skills-based economy would only succeed if more attention was paid to building the confidence and abilities of people in the most deprived communities.
A report, Potential in People, published jointly by The Big Lottery Fund and Groundwork West Midlands, calls for funders and policy makers in the West Midlands to join forces to create a 'learning ladder' that everyone can access to obtain essential life skills and move on to formal accredited qualifications and employment.
The report warns against an over reliance on National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and formal learning institutions as the only route into learning.
Instead it calls for more attention to be given to identifying community projects as a vehicle for raising people's confidence, skills level and aspirations.
Jeremy Bruce, Groundwork West Midland's Regional Director, said: "Although formal learning establishments are vital in skilling the region, relying on these institutions alone is not enough.
"Those who are most disadvantaged in society often do not have the entry qualifications, confidence or interest in going to college or university and therefore miss out on valuable opportunities to develop their potential.
"Our experience shows that involving communities in practical projects to deliver regeneration in their neighbourhood can unlock doors and unlock potential."
Debbie Nelson, who is featured in the report, left school with no qualifications and little hope of gaining employment.
Describing how a local project helped her to turn her life around, she said: "When I left school, I didn't have much. After doing nothing really for a while I was put onto the Motiv8 scheme, which is about helping young people that are either having difficulty in school or they are getting into trouble just generally.
"It helps them just build up the confidence and motivation to do things they probably wouldn't do. It has helped me to get qualifications and a job at the end of the day, whereas before I had nothing and I couldn't be bothered to do anything.
"Leaving school and progressing on to what I have done makes me feel great. And I am just going to keep doing it. I am going to keep going until I reach the top."
Big Lottery Fund regional manager John Taylor said: "If efforts to regenerate the region are to be truly successful, the most marginalised and excluded cannot be left behind.
"The launch of Potential in People offers regional players a new opportunity to stop and consider how all sectors might work together more seam-lessly to ensure that the various rungs of personal development are on one ladder and that this ladder runs right through every section of our society."