Today, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey saw how unemployed Birmingham residents are retraining to start new careers in the logistics sector, thanks to a partnership with the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).

Through devolution, the WMCA is funding a new sector-based work academy programme in Sparkbrook for 15 local people to learn new skills as light and heavy goods vehicle drivers, with everyone who completes the course guaranteed an interview with a local employer.

The Secretary of State’s visit to see the training being delivered by provider System Group was hosted by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands.

The WMCA is working in partnership with the industry and the Department for Work and Pensions to retrain residents to start new careers as key workers in the logistics sector, where there is a shortage of skilled vehicle drivers.

Thérèse Coffey, Work and Pensions Secretary of State said: “Sector-based work academy programmes (SWAPs) are a brilliant way for jobseekers in the West Midlands to quickly find a route into a new sector. And with everyone guaranteed an interview, this is a programme that offers real hope and gets results.

“Opening up opportunity to all is a key focus as we level up across the country and build back better, and SWAPs match potential with possibilities, delivering mutual benefits for employee and employer.”

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “It was great to host the Secretary of State’s visit to Sparkbrook and show her how we are working with System Group to retrain local unemployed people for them to start a new career as vehicle drivers.

“We know that sadly thousands of people have lost their jobs during the pandemic, but there are jobs available now in key growth sectors, such as logistics, and we are determined to make sure residents have the skills to secure these jobs. This is a key part of my plan to create 100,000 jobs in the West Midlands over the next two years.”

Cllr George Duggins, leader of Coventry City Council and WMCA portfolio holder for productivity and skills, added: “SWAPs are a great opportunity for residents to learn new skills, gain hands-on work experience and build their contacts in a new line of work.”

Ryan Szlafke, one of the adults on the training programme, had been a van driver for 15 years but was made redundant due to the pandemic.

He said: “I had been looking to gain my HGV licence for a while, but time and money were holding me back until I got this opportunity through my jobcentre. It hasn’t been easy this last year to gain any qualifications due to the lockdowns, and I am grateful that System Group have got me to this point. It’s been a long journey since being made redundant, and hopefully this is the beginning of a new career for me.”

Nick Graham, head of external networks at Eddie Stobart, which is recruiting through the Sparkbrook programme, said: “We’re expecting to be exceptionally busy post-lockdown, with us having several hundred driver vacancies across the UK. The WMCA is playing a vital role in funding training to help us fill positions within the region.”

Claire Lee, commercial director of training provider System Group, said: “There is a skills shortage in the logistics sector, as demand has increased due to the pandemic and more people choosing to shop online. We are proud to be funded by the WMCA to train residents to gain jobs in the sector and are looking to retrain at least 200 local people during the remainder of this year.”