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Watch: Mayor lays out new plans to tackle youth unemployment in the West Midlands

The Mayor of the West Midlands has drawn on his own learning experiences as he laid out new plans to tackle youth unemployment and empower young people to get the best start in life.

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Richard Parker has said that his flagship plan for youth unemployment in the West Midlands, which aims to create 20,000 learning and work opportunities, was about investing in the youth of the region and giving them the best chance to build successful and fulfilling careers.

The Mayor shared the first phase of his plan on a regional level to align with national government’s youth guarantee, at the Learning and Work Institutes’ Employment and Skills Convention held at Eastside Rooms in Birmingham.

He spoke about the rising level of youth unemployment in the West Midlands, which is double the national average in some areas such as Walsall, Wolverhampton and Birmingham, and how a lot of people were not able to access the support they needed.

Richard Parker said the new plan was one which worked alongside national plans around youth unemployment

He said: "We've got two million people out of work and too many of these people come from the poorest communities and too many people from these communities are unable to, for various reasons, access the opportunities that we need to make available.

"The real focus is on recognising those issues and challenges that young people face and we cannot afford to have so many young people who have been written off or who have written themselves off.

"When I thought about this plan, I was of the view that they needed a second chance, but what is apparent to me is that most of them have not had the first chance and my responsibility and my obligation to them is to give them the best chance in life and that first chance to make the most of themselves."

Richard Parker joins Deepak Chavda (St Georges and St Josephs), Jake Collins, Rameesha Aamna, Flex Johnson, Jay Singh-Jheera (Berkeley Group), Harry Billingham, and Harry Prew at Glasswork Locks in Birmingham

The initial phase of the West Midlands youth employment plan sets out the offer to young people to ensure they have the best possible start to their working lives through meaningful advice, support services and pathways, in addition to a commitment to creating 20,000 new work experience, training placements and apprenticeships by working with partners and businesses across the region.

The offer will also include pre-employment training in the region's fastest growing sectors and green skills, with a guaranteed interview, like the Path 2 Apprenticeship programme underway, and dedicated work coach support for young people who are out of work.

There will also be fully-funded training, up to level 3, to help young people develop the skills needed for work and access to mental and physical health support, including talking therapies.

Mr Parker said his own journey from leaving school in Bristol at 16-years-old unsure of his future had shaped his own views on how this plan could work and what he felt some of the benefits could be.

He said: "I grew up in a very working class bit of Bristol and left school at 16 and it was only the fact that someone I worked for spotted some talent in me and encouraged me to go back to education, which I did a year later to study A-levels, that I know that getting those A-levels and an economics degree changed my life and the opportunities that I've had.

"I know that the place I came from, with the access to education and training gave me opportunities that the people who I grew up with didn't have and I want young people in this region to have the same opportunities that I have.

Jake Collins, who won an Adult Learning Award for Step into Learning, poses with the Mayor

"I know how important it is for young people to not just get work, but get good and well paying jobs and the difference that can make to them can help their wellbeing, as well as their mental health, self-confidence and self-esteem."

Mr Parker also said that he was pleased that his plan and priorities were very closed aligned and matched by what the new Labour government wanted to do and said he was very excited to be able to work with the new Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson and Business and Trade Secretary Jonathan Reynolds to address the issues of youth unemployment.

In terms of cost of the plan, Mr Parker spoke about the various funding streams that were being utilised to ensure the plan could run smoothly.

He said: "The Combined Authority has a budget of around £170 million a year to support training and skills and which we'll deploy in the most active way, so that allows us to provide Post-18, which allows us to provide getting free access to skills and training up to Level Three.

Richard Parker shares a chat with Harry Billingham, who has just completed a graduate scheme while working at Glasswater Locks

"Each year, that provides opportunities for 74,000 people, while the pathway to apprenticeship programme has a budget of just over £7 million and we're hoping that will help around 3,500 young people access opportunities over the next three years.

"That money is there now, so the work I'll be doing involves a spending review in the next budget, and I was in Number 10 Downing Street discussing this on Tuesday, so I'm putting a case forward for more devolved resources so that we can focus on this issue and address this issue more locally and give it the attention it needs."

Mr Parker had also spoken to the Insider West Midlands Growth and Regeneration Breakfast about his plans for investment and his meeting with Sir Kier Starmer about his priorities.

He said: "My priorities are growing our economy and I want this region to be the best region to do business in the UK.

"I'm focused on working with our councils to look at how we can more effectively deliver fast-track planning to attract inward investment, deliver the housing and deliver the employment land we need."

Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said that apprenticeships and work experience were powerful tools to breaking down barriers to opportunities and spoke about her own support for Mr Parker's plans.

She said: "We want to give young people across the country the skills they need to get on in life, no matter their background.

“Richard and I are both passionate about supporting young people to get the skills they need to achieve and thrive. This government wants to work alongside our mayors to harness the talents of the British people and unlock growth in every part of our country.

“It is great to see the West Midlands Youth Plan champion youth employment and skills, creating opportunities to earn whilst learning to power bright futures and economic growth.”

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