Page last updated at 23:13 GMT, Tuesday, 12 May 2009 00:13 UK

Pain as recession hits life's work

By Emma Simpson
BBC News

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Less than three months ago, Frank Young had a busy foundry business, employing dozens of men.

But when I caught up with him at his site in the Shropshire countryside he was supervising the dismantling of what was left of the machinery.

Mr Young, who is now 70, never imagined that he would have to close the site and let all his workers go.

"This was a lifetime's investment," he told me.

Savage losses

His other plant in the north-east continues to trade but losing his Norfran Products site in Alveley has been a terrible blow.

"It's very, very personal when you've worked all your life to build something up and you see the people who you've worked with for 30 years and you've got to tell them they haven't got a salary coming in any more. It's difficult, very, very difficult," Mr Young said.

Few of his former workers have found new jobs. The story of this plant is being played out across the West Midlands, a region steeped in manufacturing.

Those in low-skilled or casual employment are the first to lose their jobs in a recession
Jerry Blackett
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce

The global downturn has resulted in savage job losses. The latest unemployment figures show that nearly one in ten people here is now unemployed.

The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce predicts that the city will lose 10,000 manufacturing jobs between 2007 and 2010, a 17% reduction.

"The difference between this recession and the previous ones is that this time, all business sectors are predicted to be in decline. In the past there would usually be some sectors to pick up the slack, " said Jerry Blackett, head of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.

His other major concern is that there are communities in this city that still have not recovered from previous recessions and who will be especially vulnerable to large increases in new unemployment.

'Skilling up'

"Experience shows that those in low-skilled or casual employment are the first to lose their jobs in a recession," he said.

But the business boss is also confident about the city's ability to build for the recovery.

Although the current statistics are grim, Birmingham is now "skilling up" faster than any other place in the country.

Darren Roberts had worked at the Norfran foundry for 26 years. But he has retrained as a digital TV installer.

The 42-year-old was one of 120 local recruits taken on by First Line Digital. He received much of his training at the Matthew Boulton College, a further education centre.

Hot metal to hi-tech

Its digital technology lab could not be further removed from the smoke and hot metals involved with his old job. About a thousand workers here are being given new skills in the digital world, one area that is expanding in the downturn.

"It's fantastic, unbelievable really," said Mr Roberts.

"Everyday is something different and it's good. I do miss some aspects of foundry life, but because I'm now part of an industry that continues to evolve, I feel I can achieve a lot more."

He knew there were few, if any, jobs in manufacturing and is all too aware how lucky he is at the chance of a new career path.

He hopes his future is secure. But for thousands of others, there is still precious little to feel secure about.

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