Thu 18th Jul 2013
Jul 13: Apprenticeships should be more widely recognised and valued
As someone who believes that manufacturing is the lifeblood of the economy I was delighted to see Northern Ireland entrants winning prestigious awards at the recent WorldSkills event in Leipzig, a nation that has a longstanding commitment to investing in the skills of its young people through a structured and successful approach to apprenticeships in particular.
At Leipzig, our young people gained an impressive collection of medals for demonstrating their world-class skills as part of TeamUK.
Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry, of course, recognises the role of apprenticeships in particular in driving economic growth and instituted a review of existing provision and future requirements earlier in the year.
This important initiative was warmly welcomed by the Chamber and other business bodies here. Recent investment announcements have also helped to highlight the need to expand the pool of people with the skills that these and other companies require.
We believe it is essential that the contribution of apprenticeships should be more widely recognised and valued. A predecessor as Chamber President, Bill McGinnis has also been at the forefront of the drive to elevate apprenticeships in his role as the Northern Ireland Adviser on Employment and Skills. Many of our Council and member companies have also contributed positively to the work of Sector Skills Council in helping to reshape existing provision.
We all recognise that existing companies as well as potential investors need greater access to relevant and practical skills that can best be developed on the shop floor working as closely as possible with expert staff in local colleges and universities to gain competence-based qualifications.
Rebalancing the economy to one driven by a more dynamic and globally focused private sector requires a rebalancing to skills development. For too long the academic pathway has been seen by parents and the wider community as the best. Regrettably, a perception that they were only for manual jobs in the crafts, construction and engineering sectors persists.
I have long been an enthusiastic supporter of formal apprenticeships shaped with business to enable young people to gain core skills and knowledge within a company and also to achieve recognised qualifications through courses provided at local colleges and universities.
This is the best way for Northern Ireland to develop world-class skills that enables our companies to compete successfully on the global stage and thereby ensure greater and well-remunerated employment that will benefit the entire community. Greater investment, for instance, is required to facilitate higher-level apprenticeships that are equivalent to a foundation degree and a Bachelors degree, or even further.
The Chamber fully supports Dr Farry’s aim which is “to build upon and enhance existing strong provision, ensuring that Northern Ireland has a system of apprenticeship and youth training that is the ‘gold standard’ – a system where our European partners can look to us for good practice. Skills are the main driver of the transformation of the Northern Ireland economy”.