Skilled workforce is essential to grow north's economy - Stephen Farry

DEL Minister Dr Stephen Farry speaking at the launch of the Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards. Photo: Hugh Russell

A SKILLED workforce is essential to rebuilding and maintaining a modern, knowledge intensive, export driven economy. And in acknowledging this, my Department is leading on a series of major reforms of Northern Ireland’s professional and technical education and training landscape.

The Northern Ireland Skills Strategy indicates that our economy will require a significant increase in higher skills in the coming years. For example, by 2020, around half of our workforce will need to be trained to Foundation Degree level or above.

The new strategies 'Generating our Success' and 'Securing our Success' set out an ambitious programme of work which will radically transform how traineeships and apprenticeships are viewed and delivered in Northern Ireland.

These two new underpinning strategies are designed to support the growth and rebalancing of the Northern Ireland economy, meet the needs of businesses by supporting the development of a highly skilled workforce and provide consistently high quality training leading to qualifications which are valued by young people and employers.

Employers will be firmly in the lead as part of the new systems of skills development. They will work with curriculum experts in the further education colleges and universities to design and agree the curriculum and content of both traineeships and apprenticeships.

The ambition is that Northern Ireland’s system of apprenticeships will be the gold standard and will form a vital part of the local skills landscape.

Therefore the focus is on quality, breadth, progression and portability. These themes will form the blue print of Northern Ireland’s apprenticeship system of the future, delivering skills excellence, recognised both nationally and internationally as an exemplar model.

This new professional and technical system of skills development will facilitate the seamless progression of our young people between professional and technical and academic pathways, ranging from level 2 (equivalent to 5 GCSEs, including maths and English at A* –C) through to level 8 (PhD). Through this new system participants will be able to earn while developing their wider work based skills.

In particular, the new apprenticeship strategy articulates a clear economic and social imperative for providing apprenticeship opportunities to grow the local economy. It clearly outlines the potential returns apprenticeships offer both employers and apprentices.

The new youth training system will have a dual purpose, providing young people with a sound foundation of skills, experience and qualifications recognised and valued by employers and relevant in today’s labour market. It will provide them with a broad based knowledge and skills as the basis from which they can access future opportunities for employment or progress into an apprenticeship or higher level studies.

Piloting of the new Youth Training and Apprenticeship systems will continue in the 2016/17 year, as traineeships, apprenticeships and higher level apprenticeships are developed across a range of priority occupational areas to test the core elements, prior to full implementation in September 2017.

Skills are the key driver of positive economic change, and are also a powerful tool to promote individual opportunity and to achieve greater social inclusion. The new system of apprenticeship and youth training will offer a spectrum of support to the employer and apprentice, facilitate lifelong learning and allow participants to move in and out of professional education and training at their own pace.

:: Dr Stephen Farry in minister at the Department for Employment and Learning

:: The 10th anniversary Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards takes place in Titanic Belfast on Thursday June 16. For entry pack and awards information visit


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