Higher level skills essential for economic recovery

West Midlands Regional Minister Ian Austin
West Midlands Regional Minister Ian Austin

13th November, 2009

The development of higher level skills is essential to build a stronger economy, Regional Minister, Ian Austin, has outlined today (Friday, November 13).

Speaking at the launch of the updated West Midlands Skills Action Plan, Mr Austin emphasised that boosting the region’s educational credentials was top priority to realise the opportunities presented by new products, new processes and new industries during the anticipated economic upturn.

Aston University, with its own graduate employment levels of nearly 93 per cent in 2008, is playing a key role in this regional development process. This includes;

  • Leading the West Midlands Graduate Internship Scheme, through which an award of £220,000 has recently been secured to help create an additional 250 placements for graduates throughout the region.

  • Being one of only four UK Universities* where more than 50% of students take sandwich programmes, bringing vital higher level skills to the workplace (*Aston, Bath, Surrey, Ulster)

  • Heading the Innovation Voucher Project, which provides Small and Medium size enterprises in the region with up to £3,000 each to collaborate with universities in the midlands. Over 460 companies have already accessed this successful scheme.

  • Sponsoring the Aston University Engineering Academy in Birmingham, a proposed multi-million pound Academy, which will be the first university-led technology college in the country. The facility will cater for 600 pupils aged between 14 and 19 years old and is seen as vital to filling a skills gap to help deliver a skilled engineering workforce for the future.

Speaking at the launch of the updated regional Skills Action Plan, jointly commissioned by regional development agency Advantage West Midlands and the Learning and Skills Council, Mr Austin outlined that commitments included more advanced apprenticeships, greater investment in schemes in growth sector areas, improved consumer choice and better access to course information.

He said; “Skills are at the very top of our agenda here in the West Midlands. The only way we’ll reverse the decline in the economy in this region is with better skills. There’s no other way we’ll be able to attract the new jobs and new industries on which our prosperity in the future will depend.

“A skilled workforce is the essential foundation for the kind of dynamic, knowledge-led economy we need if the region is to compete when the upturn comes. It is now more important than ever to concentrate on up-skilling our workforce and training apprentices so we can prepare for the upturn.

“As set our earlier this week in the National Skills Strategy, the Government is committed to creating the conditions in which British businesses can compete and prosper. To take just one example, advanced manufacturing, with its heartland in the West Midlands, is one of the UK’s biggest exports and is central both to our recovery from recession and to our future success. That is why we are committed to ensuring that we equip businesses and their workforce with the capabilities and skills to take advantage of opportunities in the new growth areas such as advanced manufacturing and low-carbon technologies.”

Helen Higson, Pro-Vice Chancellor External Relationsat Aston University, added: “Since the last Skills Action Plan there has been much greater working with employers, brokering placement opportunities and stepping up our action on employability skills.

“In line with Advantage West Midland’s priorities for delivery, we have placed much greater emphasis on improving the employability of graduates through a range of focused services which are also aimed at improving business productivity.”


For further information contact Press Officer, Alex Earnshaw, on 0121 204 4549