Economy Minister Lyons outlines the importance of apprenticeships

‘Developing the local skills base is a key priority as we seek to position NI as one of the world’s leading small advanced economies’

I had the honour this week to co-host the Northern Ireland Apprenticeship Awards 2022 and got to see first-hand the quality of our apprentices, employers and training providers which is truly outstanding.

Apprenticeships have a vital role to play in helping to equip people with the skills they need for the constantly evolving jobs market. And these skills help make our companies more globally competitive.

We have a strong apprenticeship history and ethos in NI and as Economy Minister, I have been very fortunate to meet many of our wonderful apprentices and their employers.

Pictured with Economy Minister Gordon Lyons at the virtual NI Apprenticeship Awards 2022 awards ceremony are local presenter and ceremony compere Sarah Travers with former two-weight world champion boxer Carl Frampton

With a range of online and in-person events hosted by the local further education colleges, private training organisations and employers, this week’s NI Apprenticeship Week offers the opportunity for employers, prospective apprentices and their teachers, parents or guardians to learn more about what an apprenticeship is.

As our economy continues to recover following the effects of the pandemic, developing the local skills base is a key priority for me and will be a cornerstone of the recovery as we seek to position NI as one of the world’s leading small advanced economies. I am determined to keep skills at the centre of our long term strategic plans as set out in my Department’s Vision for a 10x Economy and a decade of innovation and provide our people with the opportunities they need to upskill and reskill.

Getting back to business provides our best opportunity for economic recovery and renewal and it is important that we continue to build on the good progress already made. The importance of apprenticeships in this process cannot be overstated.

I have been greatly encouraged to note the gradual return to business as normal for Apprentices, with over 1,100 returning from furlough by the end of December 2021, as a result of approximately £2.4m of funding provided by my Department to employers to support their return. In addition, over the same period, approximately £5.3m of funding from DfE has been provided to over 1,000 employers to support the recruitment of approximately 2,000 new apprentices. Both incentives have been a major contributory factor in apprenticeship levels starting to return to their pre-Covid levels, together with the resilience of our apprenticeship training network.

Currently there are around 10,000 participants across our apprenticeship and higher level apprenticeship programmes. Apprenticeships are there for those entering work for the first time, or for people already in work who are taking their career and skills to another level and offer a great opportunity for people to earn while they learn.

I am also acutely aware of the labour shortages facing a number of sectors. My Department is working to provide skilled individuals to help fill these gaps in the labour market, with vocational education a key element, both in terms of skills for young people, as well as for those who want to reskill or upskill.

NI has an amazing wealth of talent and I am committed to doing everything within my power to ensure that we continue to develop an effective skills pipeline that supports our people, our employers and our economy. Apprentices are committed; they learn and adapt quickly to their new environment – quickly adding real value to their employers. It is this commitment, resilience and readiness to develop new skills that will ensure the future success of each apprentice, and also strengthen our wider economy.

Apprenticeships are available from Level 2 right up to Level 6 and beyond in a wide range of sectors including hospitality, engineering, IT, financial services, construction and food & drink production. They provide opportunities to those starting out in the world of work, and also to those who want to make a career change, to gain skills and experience in their field of choice, whilst providing employers with a highly skilled workforce.

Why don’t you take a few minutes and check out what is happening in your local area. It could make mark the beginning of a new career or fresh opportunities whether as an individual or an employer.

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