A FULL review of apprenticeships and youth training in the Province is aimed at producing a ‘gold standard’ system delivering the best results for young people and business and industry Stephen Farry said yesterday.
Launching the review, Mr Farry, Minister for Employment and Learning said there was real work to be done and popular preconceptions to be addressed.
The primary aims of the review are to assist the growth and rebalancing of the economy by providing employers with an appropriately skilled workforce, and to ensure that young people are provided with opportunities to gain skills, experience and secure sustainable employment.
“Existing apprenticeship and youth training schemes have served Northern Ireland businesses well, but the types of economic activity in which they engage and the goods and services they produce are changing rapidly,” said Mr Farry.
“While we already have a strong apprenticeship offering, apprenticeships have lost some of the status they previously held with other pathways of education and training held in greater esteem.
“Therefore I want to establish a system of apprenticeships that offers a pathway that is regarded as equal to or even better than academic routes. At the same time, I want the review to consider how young people can progress into higher education from a non-traditional pathway if they so wish.”
Adding that a new system must be adaptable to deal with various levels of academic ability, he said the review would ensure that the training available for young people was sufficiently broad and flexible to enable them to fulfil their potential.
Kirsty McManus, assistant director at employers’ group the CBI said the Minister had clearly listened to the concerns of business in the province.
“Apprenticeships are vital to raising skill levels in our economy, and supporting people into sustainable careers.
“It is particularly pleasing that the Minister is open to introducing higher level apprenticeships in Northern Ireland and to fully reviewing the funding available.”
CBI Northern Ireland looked forward to engaging in the review process, she added.
“Clearly businesses need the Government to trust them to deliver apprenticeships, by giving them more control over the funding and content of courses. Too much of the current system delivers what the Government will fund, rather than what businesses need.”
Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce president, Mark Nodder, said the review must produce results.
“The spectre of long-term youth unemployment faced today is a direct result of an education and training system that is not properly focused on delivering the workforce companies need.
“The government must now continue to work to boost apprenticeships, and make them aspirational again for both employees and prospective employers.”
Mr Nodder, who is Group MD of Ballymena bus maker the Wright Group, said smaller companies often shied away from taking on apprentices.
“They worry about the initial costs involved, the skill levels of candidates, and the potential risks to their business,” he said.
“Today’s announcement is a positive step, and will be critical to making apprenticeships flexible and relevant to employers across the country.”
The review will report its findings in the Autumn of 2013 and will be advised by an expert panel which includes employers and education and skills providers.