Economy Minister Gordon Lyons today launched Skill Up, a new initiative to deliver free training places, in an investment of up to £23million.
Supported by the Northern Ireland Office, Skill Up will fully fund the local further education colleges and universities to deliver approximately 15,000 training places in over 250 subject areas for qualifications ranging from Level 2 up to Level 7.
Launching Skill Up during a visit to Northern Regional College, the Minister said: “I am very pleased to announce Skill Up. With support from the Northern Ireland Office, my Department will fully fund around 15,000 training places across the local FE colleges and universities over the next three years, representing an investment of up to £23million. Up to 7,000 places will be available in the first year.
“Since May 2020 my Department has funded more than 7,000 training places for people whose careers were affected by the pandemic. These courses were fully taken up and helped many people to upskill and reskill to boost their career prospects and employability. Skill Up will build on that success, with courses even more accessible – if you meet the entry criteria, you can apply.
“Courses will be available in a diverse range of subject areas, including digital marketing, childcare, engineering, management skills and many more. With so many courses available, there is something for almost everyone – please visit nidirect for more information. It could set your career on the path you’ve always wanted.”
The Minister added: “Investing in skills is a key facet of the economic recovery, post-pandemic. Skill Up will invest in courses that are directly linked to priority areas for future economic growth, meaning people can equip themselves with the skills they need for jobs in new and emerging sectors, in line with my Department’s 10X Economic Vision and Skills Strategy.”
Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, said: “I am delighted to announce the three-year programme, Skill Up – The Flexible Skills Fund. This programme, made possible through a £15m investment from the UK Government, with up to £8m contributed from the Department for the Economy, again shows the UK Government’s commitment to supporting and protecting the interests of people and businesses in Northern Ireland, and levelling-up across the United Kingdom.
“Such investment will boost the skills of the people of Northern Ireland and reduce the skills imbalance in key growth areas such as Digital, Green Technologies, Life and Health Sciences, Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering and Health and Social Care.
“It will also support a range of educational opportunities from entry level to master’s qualifications, at no cost to the individual. This will be particularly welcomed by those whose employment was impacted by Covid-19 and who, thanks to UK Government ambitions, will have the opportunity to gain new skills leading to better employment opportunities.
“This significant announcement is part of the wider £400million New Deal for Northern Ireland fund that will foster economic growth and build a stable and prosperous future for Northern Ireland.”
Ken Webb, Principal of South Eastern Regional College and Chair of the FE College Principals’ Group, said: “We welcome the Skill Up investment and the opportunities it will provide to people to upskill and reskill at their local college, ready to start careers in new and emerging sectors. This support will help many people take steps to help themselves and ultimately contribute to the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy.”
John D’Arcy, Director of The Open University in Northern Ireland said: “The Open University is passionate about opening higher education to all and this funding from the NIO and DfE will enable people across Northern Ireland to access higher education as an option to upskill which they may not have considered before. Regardless of background or previous educational experience, people are now able to enter Open University study at no cost in the key areas of management and leadership, computing and cybersecurity, and sustainability and begin to pursue the next step in their ambitions. The Open University is dedicated to supporting the development of skills in Northern Ireland and we are proud to be able to provide innovative options to learn online and a flexible option to upskill.”
President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, Professor Ian Greer, said: “At Queen’s we are committed to upskilling and retraining the workforce of Northern Ireland to meet the needs of the economy in key sector areas as well as supporting the growth of the knowledge-based economy.
“Last year we experienced considerable demand for funded places on the postgraduate courses made available during the pandemic. At Queen’s, we have continued to work in partnership with the Department for the Economy to offer additional courses in areas where they are most needed, thereby addressing the skills deficit in priority economic areas. We are confident that a postgraduate qualification from Queen’s University will improve career prospects for individuals and give them the competitive edge to succeed.”
Professor Paul Bartholomew, Vice-Chancellor, Ulster University, said: “We support the Minister’s vision for 10X Economy through the provision of skills and professional development in priority areas. Ulster University has a strong reputation for widening access, professional education and online learning. These new, fully funded courses will not only provide excellent opportunities for individuals to enhance their skills but, significantly, they will also help local businesses to grow and innovate, providing a vital boost to the NI economy post pandemic.”
Applications for all courses are open now – full details are at http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/skillup