Latest Impetus research briefing: The Employment Gap in the West Midlands

Latest Impetus findings on the employment gap in the West Midlands reveal that NEET and employment issues in the area need to be considered on a granular, local level.

Impetus transforms the lives of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by ensuring they get the right support to succeed in school, in work and in life. Their latest research briefing tells a complex story, exploring the differences between and within regions; comparing NEET rates, higher education and apprenticeships with disadvantage. Disadvantage is defined in this report as being eligible for free school meals in Year 11.

This report covers the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), consisting of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton. It also looked at the local authority areas of Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Stoke, Telford and Wrekin, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

“Differences within the regions are often greater than the differences between regions”

This emerged as the key theme of the research briefing: the lack of uniformity and consistency because of complex variations from location to location.

A key thing to note for policymakers: the findings really show the need to consider the issues on a granular, local level. The question of whether the West Midlands is “good” or “bad” at something isn’t really meaningful – the answer differs in different places.

For example, in some local authority areas disadvantaged young people are overrepresented among apprenticeship starters by over 10%, whereas in others they are underrepresented by more than 20%. Also, 72% of disadvantaged young people with top GCSEs from Wolverhampton access university.

These variations have been picked up in previous Impetus Youth Jobs Gap reports. In April 2019, Impetus launched the first Youth Jobs Gap report, Establishing the Employment Gap, finding that disadvantaged young people are twice as likely to be out of education, employment and training (NEET) as their better-off peers and that half this gap can be explained by qualification, and half cannot.

“It is better to be from a certain local authority area and only be mid qualified, than from another area and high qualified. And there are some examples where it is better to be from a certain local authority area and only be mid qualified, than from another area and high qualified”

Evidence of this is found when the report compares Sandwell and Birmingham with Coventry and Solihull: the NEET rate for high qualified young people in Sandwell and Birmingham is higher than the mid qualified group in Coventry and Solihull. The research briefing doesn’t offer explanations for these surprising findings, nor does it claim to; it aims to identify such differences as a first step towards being able to address them.

Doubly disadvantaged young people are a significant issue

However, the report observed in the data for double disadvantage that doubly disadvantaged young people are more than three times as prevalent in Worcestershire’s NEET population as the overall population. (Groups that are doubly disadvantaged have low qualifications and are from disadvantaged backgrounds).

This table illustrates the significance of double disadvantage. In Worcestershire and Staffordshire, this group of young people makes up 3.5 times the share of NEET young people as the population. These findings indicate that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with low qualifications have less access to the opportunities that are open to their better-off and better-qualified peers in the West Midlands.

Young people and apprenticeships in the West Midlands

The data on apprenticeships appears to have more uniformity than other datasets. In the West Midlands, young people without good GCSEs make up 66% of apprenticeship starters. Most of the growth in apprenticeships has been among the 41% of young people without good GCSEs.  In 2007, 7% of the cohort without good GCSEs started an apprenticeship, compared to 16% of the 2010 cohort. By contrast, there is no increase in apprenticeship starts among the 46% of young people with top GCSEs.

This research briefing offers valuable insight needed by Youth Employment UK and others working in the sector to form the best approaches to tackling youth unemployment and supporting those who are NEET. Our own Youth Census Report 2019, found barriers to employment included cost of transport, location and competition for jobs, all of which may have interactions with geography and disadvantage.

How does Youth Employment UK tackle the youth employment issues brought up in the Impetus research briefing?

Youth Employment UK, in agreement with the thrust of this report, sees no ‘Mr. Big’, but a complex series of factors at play. Because of this we are committed to tackling these issues on several fronts by:

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