Belfast skills event has ‘major role in shaping local economy’

Pic courtesy NIE Networks
Pic courtesy NIE Networks
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More than 7,000 visitors are expected to attend a two-day career fair which opened at TEC Belfast today (Wednesday).

The event commenced with a business breakfast at Belfast Met’s Titanic Quarter campus.

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, chair of Skills Northern Ireland, presented the results from the Young People’s Career, Choice and Future Preferences Survey.

The survey revealed that just 15% are thinking about apprenticeships or employment, while the remainder are opting for further education or university life.

Thirty-six per cent of pupils turn to their parents for careers advice while 35% are concerned there may not be enough jobs available to them when they leave school.

Other speakers at the launch event included James Hutchinson (Department of Education), Mark Magill (Ulster University), Helen Brady (City & Guilds), Olly Newton (Edge Foundation) and Paula Leatham (NIE Networks).

Dr Hughes said: “It’s encouraging to find 60% of young people had an idea about the career they would like to follow after completing their education.

“An encouraging 71% were confident about securing their ideal job – this demonstrates optimism and hope for their future lives.

“However, there are some who are genuinely concerned about not having the skills, qualifications or experience to get a foothold into work. The numbers considering apprenticeships and employment is indicative of a potential skills shortage in the future.”

Gabrielle McEvans, project manager of Skills Northern Ireland, explained: “This is the fourth year of the event. Following its massive success last year, we’re bringing together more than 70 organisations and expecting over 7,000 pre-booked visitors over the two days. There’s a huge appetite for it, both from the students’ perspective and from the employers’ point of view.

“Skills Northern Ireland is the ideal platform for companies wishing to target young people, whether that is to promote courses, apprenticeships, work experience or job opportunities.

“It’s also an opportunity to engage with the teachers and careers advisers who influence the career decisions of our future generation.

“It’s an important showcase of a new approach to joined up thinking between skills training and workforce planning to ensure companies in the region have the appropriately qualified staff they’ll need in years to come.

“While this is an event geared for students, we would strongly encourage teachers, and in particular careers advisors, to come and make all the contacts they possibly can.

“By supporting closer working between education and business, we believe Skills Northern Ireland can play a major role in shaping the local economy.”

Paula Leathem, senior HR business partner at NIE Networks, the leading sponsor of this year’s event, is encouraging young people, teachers and parents to come along.

She added: “The talent pool in Northern Ireland is shrinking and events such as Skills Northern Ireland are crucial to helping address that issue and close the skills gap by showcasing what Northern Ireland employers can offer young people.

“We are trying to encourage more young people to choose STEM subjects and a technical or engineering pathway.”

“In addition to a variety of apprenticeship opportunities, we also have our own bespoke undergraduate scholarship programme which we deliver through Queen’s University Belfast. Professional support roles are also available across HR, finance, communications and customer service, so there really is a career for everyone. I cannot encourage students and parents enough to come along to Skills Northern Ireland and see what doors of opportunity we can open for them.”