Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, today unveiled The Link, a multi-service, drop-in facility in the centre of Walsall where residents can access guidance and information across a wide range of employment, training, careers advice and other support. 

The Link is a partnership-led facility delivered with support from Walsall College, The Job Centre (DWP), The National Careers Service, Walsall Housing Group (whg), the University of Wolverhampton, and Walsall Council. West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has provided £200,000 funding toward the facility, a key investment in delivering its new Employment & Skills Strategy, which was also launched.  

The Link has been designed in direct response to the Levelling Up, Pathfinder agenda. Located at 46 Park Street, The Link operates from Monday to Friday and is managed by a team from Walsall College who are trained to provide customers with guidance on pre-employment training, apprenticeships, employability skills, CV writing and careers advice amongst many other services. 

They’re also equipped to signpost users to a wide range of other service providers that include housing, benefits, public health services, mental health support and childcare. Explaining the rationale behind the one-stop shop facility, Jatinder Sharma, Principal and Chief Executive at Walsall College, the lead partner delivering The Link, said: “Employment rates in Walsall are still below those of the wider West Midlands. 

“The Link will provide guidance and support to enable residents, regardless of their current employment or training status, to take the necessary steps towards improving their employment options. We believe that by taking a partnership approach whereby a wide range of support and guidance is available in a single location, we’ll encourage users who are unsure of the options open to them to take that vital first step to a successful future.”

WMCAs new employment and skills strategy sets out a bold ambition and clear plans to ensure that residents and businesses across the West Midlands can share in the benefits of a prosperous and growing economy. Through investments, such as The Link, Walsall residents will now have more opportunities to develop new skills, find good work, progress in employment and improve their quality of life.

Building on the success of recent years, the Strategy sets out how WMCA will continue to invest around £167m per year in learning and training that strengthens communities, provides all adults with a good foundational education, helps residents into work and supports their career progression, and delivers the higher-level skills increasingly required by businesses across the economy.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA Chair, said: “Giving local people the skills they need to get into work or secure a better job is a key priority for our region as we strive to grow an economy that offers everyone the opportunity to secure a worthwhile job.

“The Link and the launch of our Employment and Skills Strategy will help us do that and comes at a pivotal moment for the West Midlands which now has 60,000 fewer people with no qualifications and nearly 160,000 more people qualified to level 3 than in 2019. Working closely with our seven local authorities, employers and partners across further and higher education, we have helped over 20,000 people into work and 135,000 into training.  Across the region, we have also seen 52,000 people trained as apprentices.

“It’s a good start but too many people continue to be held back by low skills levels and the number of young people out of work remains a challenge. By working together through the strategy and with the support of initiatives like The Link we can raise skill levels to further improve the lives of local people and the prospects of our businesses across the whole West Midlands.”

With the aim of making access to a wide range of guidance and support as easy for users as possible, the collaboration of several key stakeholders has been central to the establishment of The Link. District Employer and Partnership Lead at the Department for Work and Pensions, Gerry Lyng, said: “With a clear objective to simplify how Walsall residents access jobs and gain the necessary skills to apply, it was clear that the public, voluntary and private sectors must work together. 

“This collaborative approach has successfully led to the establishment of The Link – a go to place for employers to fill vacancies, and for residents, particularly young people in the Youth Hub, to get those jobs and skills.” Concluding, Jatinder Sharma commented: “Life is rarely a linear journey from education, through training and onto varying stages of a career and whilst for many, navigating the options is a manageable experience, for others the options and pathways can be daunting.

“Our aim with The Link is, simply, to provide access to the appropriate options and guidance so that everyone’s personalised journey to a better future is made possible.”