Apprenticeships deliver growth

Colleges NI Award The new apprenticeships landscape is helping drive forward the needs of the economy.

Colleges Northern Ireland firmly believes that apprenticeships are a highly effective vehicle for developing skills that meet the needs of employers and support the rebalancing and rebuilding of the economy. Over the past seven years, the six regional Further Education (FE) colleges across Northern Ireland have supported over 46,000 apprentices.

Education is not something which should suddenly end when employment begins and a move towards an all-age apprenticeship can help reinforce this ethos. Already 80 per cent of the 2020 workforce has left compulsory education and Northern Ireland continues to have the highest proportion of working age population with no formal qualifications.

In an economy where it is predicted that 50 per cent of all jobs will require higher level or degree qualifications, the extension of some apprenticeship pathways up to degree and postgraduate level is welcomed.

The value and importance of apprenticeships over the coming years cannot be overstated. The primary benefit to the economy from apprenticeships is a better matching of supply and demand for skills. From an employer perspective, apprentices help address skills gaps and can result in significant returns in investment while for the apprentice, benefits include the opportunity to earn while they learn and to engage in both on- and off-the-job training.

The new apprenticeship strategy launched by the Minister for Employment and Learning in June is welcomed on a number of fronts. This includes the all-age offering, a minimum of two years’ duration for apprenticeships, tax incentives for employers, seamless progression routes, international applicability and placements, and the increased range of professional and technical occupational areas.

Colleges NI has been lobbying for a more joined up 14-19 policy where the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education can work in partnership in developing a structured vocational educational framework which sits alongside other academic routes. The ethos of the new apprenticeship strategy which aims for a ‘parity of esteem’ is a clear step in the right direction. The talent and expertise of apprentices has been showcased recently in a number of skills competitions at a local and national level.

In June, two of the six regional FE colleges were involved in hosting the UK squad selection events for the first time. This saw over 140 of the most skilled apprentices from across the UK competing. Northern Ireland yet again “punched above its weight” with 17 apprentices – 11 of whom are studying at one of our FE colleges – securing a place on the UK squad for WorldSkills 2015, due to take place in Brazil.

In May, Colleges NI hosted the annual BEST (Business and Education through Skills and Training) Awards. Now in its fourth year, the competition saw 180 college students competing for a number of awards. For the first time also, eight BEST finalists were selected for placements in Massachusetts, USA, for the Frontiers Programme which focuses on STEM subjects (pictured). In addition, four finalists were selected for fully funded places sponsored by ADS – the trade organisation advancing the UK’s aerospace, defence, security and space sectors – to attend the Farnborough Airshow. Both these events took place in July.

The further education sector will be a key delivery partner in the new apprenticeships landscape which will be central to securing our economic success. Colleges NI will continue to promote skills competitions as a key tool in raising the standards of training, promoting skills, enhancing business performance in the economy, and showcasing the opportunities that an apprenticeship can offer.

Print Karen Lennon is the Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Colleges NI

Tel: 028 9068 4952

Email: karen.lennon@collegesni.ac.uk

Web: www.collegesni.ac.uk

Twitter: @CollegesNI

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