Birmingham’s city council leader has admitted the city has one of the worst youth unemployment rates in the country – but pledged a new £15 million campaign will make a huge difference.
With 15,000 under-25s out of work, of which 3,000 have claimed jobseekers allowance for more than a year, the city council’s Labour administration made tackling the issue a policy priority when it took over last year.
A Commission on Youth Unemployment, working with the Department for Work and Pensions, the National Apprentice Service, the Chamber of Commerce, voluntary groups and major employers has now set out its plan to create a 1,000 jobs or apprenticeships for youngsters in the short-term and develop policies and generate funding to further reduce that figure over the years ahead.
Council leader Sir Albert Bore said that Birmingham was among the worst performing UK cities on youth employment rates – but he expected it to be among the best within a few years.
He has now issued what he has described as a ‘call to arms’ for city businesses, communities and public agencies to work together and make the issue a priority.
“I am very excited because this is a joint effort with many partners coming together. We are very confident that we will be able to create something in the order of 1,000 jobs for long-term unemployed people in Birmingham.”
The commission report revealed that the youth unemployment rate was 10.7 per cent across the city.
But the rate was far higher in inner-city areas such as Washwood Heath where a quarter of 18-24 year olds were out of work.
It is also estimated that the cost of so many youngsters on benefit to the taxpayer was £88 million in 2012, while those youngsters who face sustained periods of unemployment are less likely to hold down regular work in future, will be paid less in later life and are more likely to suffer health problems.
There was also a greater likelihood of descent into crime and anti-social behaviour.
The report concluded that youth unemployment was on the rise over the last decade, and accelerated following the 2008 economic downtown and therefore could not just be attributed to the recession.
The pledge was to slash long-term youth unemployment by ramping up the number of opportunities available to young people, to make Birmingham’s schools and colleges among the best in the country at preparing pupils for the world of work and unite as a city to tackle youth unemployment.
The Commission on Youth Unemployment includes Jobcentre Plus, the Local Enterprise Partnership, the Birmingham Voluntary Service Council, school and college representatives and major employers like Carillion, the University Hospital Birmingham and Network Rail.
Birmingham Cabinet member for development, jobs and skills, Coun Tahir Ali said: “Birmingham is a young city, one of the youngest in Europe.
“Our young people leave school better qualified than the national average. But our youth unemployment is among the worst in the country. We need to turn that around.”
Coun Ali said jobs were available and cited initiatives by major employers such as Network Rail’s New Street development, the John Lewis store that forms part of the same scheme and manufacturers like GKN in Erdington and AEC in Tyseley.
Karen Woodward of the National Apprenticeship Service, which is contributing about £1.5 million to the fund, said its money would cover some of the training costs and be used to encourage businesses to take on apprentices. The Department for Work and Pensions also grants subsidies to companies taking on young apprentices, which are being added to the pot.
Ms Woodward said: “It isn’t about buying jobs, but how we use government money to persuade employers to make a decision they were probably wavering on – to employ a young person.”
She added that while surveys among all businesses show a reluctance to hire young workers, the response was more positive from those who already have taken on and trained younger staff – particularly in terms of motivation, turnover and absenteeism.
The fund will be boosted with grants from the National Apprenticeship Service and Department for Work and Pensions and a £7.5 million bid, from the Birmingham Voluntary Service Council, to the Big Lottery Fund’s Talent Match scheme – from which there are encouraging signs.
Network Rail has also backed the scheme, and will encourage the use of local apprentices on the New Street Station redevelopment. The firm’s Mark Bennett said: “It is about maximising access to these jobs for Birmingham residents.”
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