Proposals to tackle Birmingham’s shockingly high levels of youth unemployment are to be fast tracked in a bid to win a slice of a £100 million lottery funding pot.
The city council’s Labour administration had pledged to put unemployment at the top of its agenda when it won the local elections in May - and is now bringing together a range of experts to come up with policy proposals to improve the job prospects for the one in five 18-24 year olds out of work in Birmingham.
Latest figures show that more than one in five young people in the city are unemployed, 2,500 of who have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance for more than year.
The council has been spurred into action to set up its Youth Unemployment Commission following the announcement of the £100 million Big Lottery Fund’s Talent Match programme - with early bids needed to be submitted by September and worked into more detailed proposals by November.
The commission will also look at ways to coordinate what Labour council leader Sir Albert Bore described as ‘fragmented’ approaches by the various organisations responsible for jobs, education, training and skills in the city.
Sir Albert said: “This Commission will bring together various players in the city to work together to provide opportunities of youth employment in the city.”
He said that the Big Lottery Fund was too good an opportunity to miss and that the Commission would start work immediately. “The time scales are tight,” he admitted.
He said: “We simply cannot go on with thousands of our young people leaving school and not going into work for months and years at a time. Like everyone, they need challenge and purpose in their own lives and to be able to contribute to the society in which they live.
“It is simply the fact that if a young person gets from 16 to 24 years-old without skills and employment, then there is every chance that they will join those long-term unemployed, unable to help themselves and our economy.”
At 22.7 per cent Birmingham has a youth unemployment rate higher than the UK core city average of 18.3 per cent.
Rates are as high as 30 per cent in the worst hit areas, which include white working class suburbs like Shard End, Erdington and Northfield, as well as inner city areas.
He highlighted several positive schemes, such as the 75 construction apprenticeships created by Network Rail and Mace during the rebuilding of New Street Station and apprentice schemes run by Jaguar Land Rover, but said this was ‘fragmented’.
He also admitted that various schemes over many years, such as the major regeneration projects in Aston and Handsworth, despite pouring millions into these areas had failed to alter the pattern of high unemployment.
Concrete proposals already under development include a skills hub, which is a one stop place for businesses to go to find properly equipped young recruits, rather than have them trawl around various colleges and agencies. It will also ensure that Birmingham’s colleges and education and training providers are producing youngsters with the relevant skills following criticism from firms like JLR that they have to search further afield for engineers.
And a skills academy will ensure that young apprentices are not left high-and-dry when construction projects or training schemes finish and their training is incomplete.
While agreeing that there is a more fundamental issue, that there are simply not enough jobs to go round, Sir Albert said that there could be a positive impact on youth employment by making sure that Birmingham’s teenagers have the right skills and that businesses can find them when needed.
“We are doing some work on inward investment with Marketing Birmingham and key to this is convincing firms that we can provide staff and young people with the right skills,” he said.
He added that other projects, including the recently agreed Aston Manufacturing Hub, are designed to bring jobs into the city.
His Cabinet colleague John Cotton, responsible for equality and social cohesion, said that this is priority for the city. “We are committing social and economic sabotage for the future success of Birmingham if we do not tackle youth unemployment across the city,” he said.