A major review of youth training in Northern Ireland is aiming to streamline the system and ensure that vocational and academic education are equally valued by parents, employers and young people.
Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry commissioned two reviews – one into apprenticeships and general youth training policy – in February 2013. The first review led to the launch of a new apprenticeships strategy last June. The interim report from the review of youth training was published in November and the consultation on it closes on 10 February.
At present, youth training is provided in 10 different ways. Further education has the highest profile and other routes include ApprenticeshipsNI, Steps 2 Success, and the Youth Employment Scheme.
The Minister’s aspiration is to build a system that is recognised for its quality, flexibility and transferability. It should be centred on the aspirations and needs of young people. The system should also be respected as an alternative to the traditional academic pathway. Under his plan, youth training would have six core components:
1. availability to all young people (aged 16-24) who require training at NQF Level 2;
2. helping young people to attain a full Level 1 qualification before training;
3. providing a new professional and technical award;
4. structured (and mandatory) work-based learning;
5. opportunities to study for additional qualifications; and
6. lasting for a maximum of two years.
NQF Level 2 is equivalent to GCSE grades A*-C and the award would carry the same value as five GCSEs passes at that level, including English and maths. Young people will receive independent careers advice and guidance before they start training and when they have completed training. Workplace mentors will help young people to develop their skills and achieve the best outcomes from what they learn. Financial support will be provided (via a training wage or allowance) and the system will accommodate the needs of young people who are disabled or leaving care, or those with caring responsibilities.
Employers will have a formal input through a strategic advisory forum (reporting to the Minister) and sectoral partnerships, which will define the qualifications to be delivered and the duration, structure and timing of work placements. There will be a single point of contact for sourcing and advertising opportunities for work-based learning. Ideally, these opportunities will be provided across all sectors, including the public sector. A strong brand for the system will also be rolled out.
Robust data collection, analysis and evaluation will underpin the system, and young people will have the chance to give feedback on their experiences. All potential participating employers will go through a registration and approval process. The work-based learning element will be underpinned by a clear contractual agreement between the young person, the employer and the training provider.
Workplace mentors will be required to have adequate experience and qualifications and will also undertake training for that role. Training outside the workplace will be provided by tutors who have recent experience of their particular sector and relevant occupational and teaching qualifications.
The Department for Employment and Learning encourages stakeholders to read the review report along with the apprenticeships strategy, which has the same aim of raising the value and profile of vocational education.
The main focus is on helping those who have left school without a full Level 2 qualification, including those who have already joined the workforce. This accounts for a third of this age group: 68,500 young people. Around 32,000 young people are not in employment, education or training – the so-called NEET category.
Northern Ireland’s skills levels have been steadily rising over the last fifteen years. Our school leavers score better in literacy than their English counterparts. The province has one of Europe’s youngest populations and this in itself represents a major economic opportunity.
Stephen Farry ultimately wants the province to emulate the success of Germany, Switzerland and Austria in getting young people into work and achieving Europe’s lowest youth unemployment rates.Well-established vocational educational and training schemes have kept these rates down despite the economic downturn.
While the shift from Level 1 to Level 2 may seem relatively small to a more qualified person, it has the potential to open up a much more positive future for a school leaver.
Once a Level 2 apprentice finishes their course, they have a 10 per cent greater chance of getting a job and they could potentially earn 12 per cent more than a less qualified young person.
Along with other Department for Employment and Learning policy documents, the youth training review has undergone shared future proofing. This process was introduced by the Alliance Party in 2012 and considers four issues:
• whether the proposal promotes sharing between different groups;
• any inadvertent segregation or separation of services and facilities;
• whether any barriers to sharing are removed or addressed; and
• any inadvertent barriers to sharing.
The groups in question are primarily those from different religious, political or racial backgrounds but can include any group outlined in Section 75(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Officials are asked to answer each question by stating the impact – positive, negative or none – and then support their statement with qualitative and quantitative evidence. They must also outline possible mitigating measures which could increase sharing.