Mayor hails 'life-changing' new programme to get young people 'better jobs'

Richard Parker believes the West Midlands 'cannot afford' to have unemployed young people feeling 'written off' at the age of 16. The West Midlands Mayor has set out his vision to create 150,000 jobs and training placements in a bid to growing the region's economy and raising aspirations.

But he said the area's youth unemployment levels - which are much higher than the national average - and a skills shortage deterring businesses needed to be addressed. Mr Parker hailed a new programme, Path2Apprenticeships, which will see the West Midlands Combined Authority invest £7.5 million over three years into supporting 3,300 young people into 'good quality' apprenticeships.

The programme, which started this month, is for people aged 19-29 and will be delivered by seven independent training providers. Mr Parker visited one of those run by The Skills Centre at Glasswater Locks, Eastside, Birmingham, and he said it was "uplifting" to see the impact the project was having on the students, many of whom found school wasn't the best learning environment for them.

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He said: "We cannot afford to have so many young people out of work and feeling without any hope and feeling they won't be able to do more than get a very poorly paid and uncertain job. As someone from a working class part of Bristol, I left school at 16 initially and it was someone taking an interest in me and recognising I had some talent and encouraging me to go back to do A-levels a year later.

"That's what got me to a degree. I came to the West Midlands and qualified as an accountant and that changed my life and gave me opportunities I'd never have had. When you look across the region there are too many young people without access to skills they need to get better jobs which not only blights their lives but actually is stopping them progressing.

"I've always said it is getting access to those key skills is the best way to get that pathway to a career and not just a job. I visited the programme at Glasswater Locks and met the first cohort of people on this programme. They were invariably young people who have left school with very few or no qualifications.

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"It's construction orientated - helping them understand the construction sector, the skills that are available and giving them the background and the insight they need to get access to apprenticeships in the future. It was incredibly uplifting. There were people there who left school with no qualifications who thought they were destined never to work again or do very low paid work.

"This has transformed their view of themselves, their potential and what the possibilities were. For many of them school was not really the right learning environment and this was something that had given them the motivation to succeed and change their view of work.

"For many of those people this wasn't giving them a second chance, it was actually the first chance that they have had. It has the potential to be life changing for them and we cant afford to have so many young people in this region that feel they are written off by the time they are 16.

"This programme develops here in the West Midlands has the potential to be truly transforming. I'm very excited about it." He added: "Inspiring young people and helping them aspire is really important. The more young people in work or in learning, the wider socio-economic benefits are enormous."

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