Birmingham's economic future in the hands of technicians

Professor Alison Halstead
Professor Alison Halstead

Friday, April 8th

The Skills Commission held a parliamentary inquiry sessions in Birmingham (Friday, April 8th) to investigate how the City and West Midlands region can train world class technicians, crucial to reviving the region’s economy.

Chaired by Alison Halstead, Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Aston University, the inquiry examined the future of technician and higher level skills in Birmingham, hearing evidence from employers and educational specialists across the region.

Birmingham’s economic revival

The Skills Commission believes that to revive its economy, Birmingham needs to invest in training its workforce. Over the past three decades, the city’s economy has undergone a significant change, with the service sector replacing manufacturing as the principal source of employment; in 2009, only 9% of jobs in Birmingham were in the manufacturing sector1. MG Rover going into administration in 2005, and LDV in 2009 were examples of such decline.

Yet manufacturing is now, once more on the rise, with an increasing focus on high-technology production. Indeed, Birmingham City Council has developed a manufacturing strategy for the city, which envisions Birmingham as being a centre for manufacturing excellence by 2015. And the Government has made clear its ambition to create a more production-led economy; George Osborne mentioned the word “manufacturing” ten times in his budget address.

But to achieve this, Birmingham, along with the rest of the UK, needs individuals with the skills and capabilities to make goods, which in turn, will require more technical training and apprenticeships. Already the UK is lagging behind the rest of Europe, with only 3.7% of its workforce trained to technician level – compared to an EU average of 5.3%2. This is a trend Birmingham can’t afford to follow if it aspires to take advantage of new emerging markets and the job opportunities on offer.

Skills Commission Inquiry

The Skills Commission is bringing together employers and education and skills specialists from across the region, alongside representatives from the City Council, to address the needs of the employers, both here and across the UK.

Chaired by Professor Alison Halstead, the Aston University Pro-Vice-Chancellor was joined at the Midlands KPMG headquarters by speakers Brenda Sheils, Principal of Solihull College, and Patrick Highton, Director, Birmingham, Black Country and Solihull Lifelong Learning Network.

Professor Alison Halstead, Chair of the Skills Commission inquiry and Pro-Vice Chancellor at Aston University, said:

The Government has recognised the importance of technical skills to growing the UK’s manufacturing and engineering industries. This timely inquiry will build on the recent Wolf report on 14-19 education by focusing on the next stage; technical vocational and professional skills for adults including apprenticeships and higher level education. The successful development of such technical skills is key to the growth of the West Midlands economy and I am particularly keen to ensure the voice of local employers and participants are heard.

‘To thrive in a current time of economic flux, Birmingham will need to address its skills gap; the Skills Commission’s inquiry will help kick-start this process.’


For more information, contact Rosie Shute, Communications Manager at the Skills Commission, tel: 0207 202 8587, email: rosie.shute@policyconnect.org.uk.

Notes to Editor

  • The Skills Commission facilitates discussion of the leading issues in skills, training and further education policy. Co-chaired by Barry Sheerman MP and Dame Ruth Silver, commission members include parliamentarians from all the main parties, and highly experienced practitioners from across the skills sector. The Commission carries out research and makes recommendations for skills policy reform.
  • The inquiry is being supported by Gatsby Foundation, Pearson and the Tec Trust Fund.
  • Professor Alison Halstead is Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Aston University and is leading on the development of Aston’s 14-19 University Technical College.
  • More information on the Birmingham Manufacturing Strategy 2006-2015 can be found here.
  • 1 http://www.birminghameconomy.org.uk/sum/kfsumaes.htm
  • 2 SET Based Technicians - Lessons from the UK and European Labour Force Surveys, Nick Jagger, Maria Sigala, Freddie Sumption (Institute for Employment Studies 2010)