West Midlands Mayor Andy Street threw down the gauntlet to leading businesses today to help those from the most disadvantaged areas of the region on the road to a successful career.

Speaking at a business breakfast at the launch of The Skills Show from WorldSkills UK, at Birmingham’s NEC, the Mayor said he was restless about the lack of social mobility which is preventing some young people from taking advantage of the growing opportunities afforded by the West Midlands economy.

He urged thousands of young people to take advantage of Britain’s biggest event of its kind, which runs until Saturday night right on their doorsteps – and is offering 25,000 jobs, apprenticeships and training courses.

Mr Street said it was his number one priority and the fact The Skills Show was in the region was a real chance to engage with young people.

“There is a lot of brilliant work being done and there is lots to celebrate but I have a restlessness and a dissatisfaction for where we are,” he said.

“We hear that all the time we have persistent worklessness, or probably more accurate, low skills, low pay, low aspiration parts of our community.”

“The thing that makes me feel restless is we stand here today in one of the most affluent parts of the country just a few miles from some of the disadvantaged and that can’t be right.

“It is a very exciting time to be a young person especially in the West Midlands. Growing up in the 80s unemployment was vast, opportunities weren’t here and people were moving away. It looks so much different now.”

He urged businesses to plan for investment in skills in the same way they do capital investment and said the Skills Show is a good place to help shape their thinking.

“Today is a day of an inspiration we can be very proud of how far we have come as a region, but we need to be very restless,” he said. “The bit that gnaws away at me are the hard-to-reach groups – there are 12,000 NEETS (people not in education, employment or training) across the region that has flatline stopped reducing it. I am determined to put a framework in place to make sure the youngsters who are here (at The Skills Show) today can be inspired and look forward to their careers and lives in the West Midlands.” 

Dr Neil Bentley, Chief Executive of WorldSkills UK, which organises The Skills Show, echoed his comments.

“We pride ourselves on being a national UK-wide show – but the importance of this event to the economy in this region is also clear,” said Dr Bentley.

“The Skills Show is part of the competitive edge that this region enjoys. This platform is equipping this region’s young people with the knowledge and immersive experience to make the best and most-informed careers choices.

“We’ve got a tremendous showcase – with the national finals of our skills competitions taking place right here – for the nation’s most skilled young people on their journey to eventually representing the UK on the world stage at the Skills Olympics.”

He said Team UK had done the nation proud in the recent WorldSkills International competition at Abu Dhabi, maintaining a top 10 position in the medal table.

“As in previous years, members of Team UK will go on to be tomorrow’s business leaders and budding entrepreneurs. The Skills Show is the Launchpad for our most talented young people to go out and compete against the world’s best. The destinations from Birmingham this week are the European finals in Budapest next summer and the Skills Olympics in Russia, in two years’ time.

The Skills Show is the national platform which can drive forward the Mayor’s business agenda on world-class skills and productivity.”

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