Speaking at an event organised by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust at Stormont, Minister Farry said: “Apprenticeships offer a unique opportunity to transform the skills landscape in Northern Ireland and facilitate economic and social progress.
“I believe implementation of the model contained in the new Strategy, ‘Securing our Success’, will have a transformative impact on the supply of skills, particularly at higher levels for employers and, at the same time, inspire all who participate in an apprenticeship programme.”
The Minister challenged businesses to consider the merits of employing an apprentice in helping to address skills gaps, recognising that apprenticeships benefit employers of all sizes, including small and micro businesses which form the vast majority of the Northern Ireland economy.
Minister Farry said: “Apprenticeships provide an excellent means by which employers can obtain the skills they require, as well as being assured that across the economy there is a critical mass of people with strong technical and good employability skills. For our new model to be successful, it is essential that employers in particular continue to play a central role in the development and delivery of the new system.”
The Strategy includes a major commitment to higher level apprenticeships, in recognising that apprenticeships will play a major role in meeting the demand for higher level skills.
The Minister continued: “My Department is piloting higher level apprenticeships across a number of sectors with the aim of testing their effectiveness to meet the specific skills needs of local employers. A number of pilot projects are currently in progress, employing 130 higher level apprentices across 46 companies, with initial positive feedback from both apprentices and employers.”
Michael O’Neill, Engineering Manager of Terex in Dungannon, which employs five higher level engineering apprentices, presented a view from an employer perspective. He said: “As an employer, I recognise the benefits that apprenticeships bring to business in the better matching of supply and demand for skills. Apprenticeships can help to ensure that employers are provided with the skills needed to grow their business and improve competitiveness. We need a renewed focus on apprenticeships, particularly at higher levels, as a mechanism to improve and encourage skills development, innovation and economic growth.”