In November 2013, students from across the six regional Further Education (FE) Colleges took part in the Skills Show in Birmingham which is the UK’s largest skills event. Thirty-two students from Colleges across Northern Ireland took part and two-thirds won awards – securing six gold, three silver and seven bronze medals as well as five commendations.
The awards were in areas such as Music, Plumbing, Electronics and Reflexology and the competitors may be eligible to compete for a place at the next World Skills competition in Brazil 2015. At the previous World Skills event in Germany 2013, Northern Ireland competitors made up one third of the UK team. The Northern Ireland competitors from the local Colleges returned with one bronze and five Medallions of Excellence. Such skills competitions can help to improve self-esteem of students, raise the quality of vocational education and increase the profile of employers.
FE Colleges are the main providers of vocational and technical education and training in Northern Ireland. The sector plays a central role in raising levels of literacy and numeracy, and in up-skilling and re-skilling the population through a broad range of courses leading to qualifications. There are many education challenges which are currently being addressed by our FE Colleges.
These include addressing the growing number of young people not in education, employment and training (NEETs) and helping deliver the requirements of the entitlement framework. There are some ongoing policy discussions which will impact on the provision of education for our young people. These include the qualification reforms, review of careers guidance and advice, review of GCSEs and A-levels and the current review of apprenticeships, youth training and economic inactivity.
The FE sector in Northern Ireland is a key driver for economic development and growth in the local economy. The Colleges drive an economically relevant curriculum to ensure that learners are employable, the existing workforce is up-skilled to meet the needs of employers and businesses are supported to grow and innovate. The new Skills to Succeed campaign was launched in January 2014 to raise the skills level of the whole workforce. Through the skills competitions and business relationships outlined above the Colleges are playing a key role in rebalancing the local economy.
To summarise the FE offering, the sector in Northern Ireland boasts:
• Six regional Colleges
• A member of the 157 Group, (Belfast Metropolitan College), A member of the Gazelle Group (South West College) and five colleges have won various Beacon Awards
• 4,100 expert lecturers
• An 89 per cent retention rate (varying from 85 per cent at Entry/Level 1 to 95 per cent at Higher Education level)
• An 87 per cent achievement rate (varying from 87 per cent at Level 3 to 91 per cent at HE level)
• Providing learning to over 90,000 students across 157,000 enrolments annually
• 30 per cent of enrolments at Level 3 and above
• £260 million turnover
• £340 million investment over the past ten years in modern college estate and facilities
• 70 per cent of learners going into employment on completing their course
• 45 per cent of learners from the most deprived wards in Northern Ireland
• Operating across 40 campuses and 400 community outreach centres
• Accounting for 18 per cent of all the HE students in Northern Ireland
Some success stories from each College are as follows.
To find out more about the FE sector or to obtain contacts for individuals Colleges, visit the Colleges NI website: www.collegesni.ac.uk
Finally, College Open Days are taking place during February and March 2014. Visit our website to find out dates and times.
The growing demand for software skills to support Northern Ireland’s growing ICT sector prompted Belfast Met to implement a new style curriculum which is reaping benefits for expanding local businesses. The ICT Academies, made possible through the Department for Employment and Learning’s (DEL) Assured Skills Programme include a Data Analytics Training Academy. The initiative has helped businesses recruit for hard-to-fill IT posts and supports a key growth sector where demand still outstrips supply.
Acumen launched by Northern Regional College in May 2012 provides leadership and management training to businesses and is an approved centre for Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), Chartered Institute of Management (CIM) and Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD). Training is available on and off-site. The Acumen suite of courses includes Level 3, 5 and 7 Diplomas in Leadership and Management, Primary Care and Health Management and Strategic Leadership. A Foundation Degree in Retailing is also offered. Short courses are also available.
As part of the sector’s commitment to drive economic growth through its InnovateUS programme, the North West Regional College is delivering practical business support to local SMEs. Free business support and consultancy is currently available to SMEs in sectors such as Engineering, Renewable and Sustainable Technologies and Digital Media. One company in the food sector reported a 200 per cent increase in sales of a specialist product as a result of the up-skilling and innovation gained through the programme.
As the housing market begins to show green shoots of recovery, South Eastern Regional College is delighted to offer a specialist property management qualification which is set to help estate agents gain professional skills and expertise. A local estate agent already benefiting from the course stated that the “bespoke course was designed to advance the knowledge and capabilities of our sales team and as a result improved customer service, business performance, and staff motivation.”
Norbrook Laboratories Ltd, the veterinary and animal health medicines specialists, have announced an expansion of its workforce with a commitment to employ a further 400 new staff over the next two years. The launch of the Apprenticeship Programme in collaboration with Southern Regional College is an important element of the company’s planned expansion programme and in addressing the lack of real job opportunities in science for school leavers. In addition, it is piloting a Higher Level Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland which will provide high level jobs within the local economy.
South West College has secured STEM Assured status from the National Engineering Foundation. The standard recognises institutions with advanced capability to support the needs of business and industry through specialist teaching and training in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). The award reflects a College’s determination to be at the forefront of STEM provision and meet the needs of local and regional employers.