Mon 27th Jan 2014
Jan 14: The future of apprenticeships
Enterprise and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry has produced an immensely important consultative document on the future of apprenticeship training and provision here. It’s a timely document in the light of the encouraging signs of an upturn in the local economy that could see faster than expected growth.
Finding people with the right skills has been a problem here particularly for manufacturers for some considerable time. Recovery will certainly exacerbate the skills problem further.
NI Chamber has welcomed the document, which aims to reform radically and improve skills training for learners and employees. We will make a detailed submission in due course.
What Dr Farry proposes makes sense and should encourage more young people in particular to identify the potential of apprenticeships as a route to develop key skills that could make it easier for them to find a career faster and also to help local companies move ahead faster especially in export markets.
The aim is to enable learners to work with employers to design an apprenticeship that will enable them to progress into higher professional or technical training or onto a higher academic pathway including to higher-level apprenticeships and on to further and higher education.
The challenge is to get more young people into worthwhile and rewarding employment. And it’s a challenge facing other parts of Europe. Almost a quarter of the young people across the European Union are now unemployed, yet only 40 percent of employers feel confident that they can find enough skilled people to fill entry-level positions.
Business consultants McKinsey recently published an interesting study, Education to Employment: Getting Europe’s Youth into Work that called for increased collaboration to tackle what is a pressing business and social issue.
The study points out that the economic downturn has, not surprisingly, dramatically exacerbated the problem of youth unemployment, highlighting worryingly that 5.6 million young people are unemployed across Europe, and a total of 7.5 million are “ neither being educated nor are they working”.
While young people are eager to work, more than half of those without jobs say they simply can’t find one — “all while businesses across Europe insist they struggle to find young people with the skills they need”.
To find out more about the problem, McKinsey surveyed 5,300 young people, 2,600 employers, and 700 postsecondary-education providers across eight countries, including the UK, that together are home to almost 73 percent of Europe’s 5.6 million jobless youth.
Twenty seven per cent of employers reported that they have left a vacancy open in the past year because they could not find anyone with the right skills. One-third said the lack of skills is causing major business problems, in the form of cost, quality, or time.
The survey indicated that one of the issues is “the failure of employers, education providers, and young people to understand one another. The Northern Ireland document is based on extensive communications between all the relevant stakeholders. This important dialogue is underway, particularly between employers and education providers, and should become an ongoing feature here especially in areas such as careers guidance.
Dr Farry’s proposals, therefore, need to be seen as an important contribution, perhaps a starting point, in a wide ranging dialogue between the relevant parties designed to ensure that all the relevant stakeholders are ready to respond and are flexible to existing and future skills requirements.