Skills are the key driver for north's future economic growth

Department for Learning and Employment Minister Dr Stephen Farry. His department has been a supporter of the Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards since their inception in 2007. Photos:Hugh Russell

SKILLS are widely accepted as a key driver in how Northern Ireland can achieve its economic goals in a modern knowledge based economy.

And as the skills and learning remit of the Department for Employment & Learning merges with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the skills agenda will remain a major focus of the new Department for the Economy.

Celebrating their 10th anniversary, the Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards continue to provide an innovative stage to recognise and showcase companies and organisations that are focused on their people.

"Developing the skills of our current and future workforce will be essential to support Northern Ireland achieve its economic aspirations," says Derek Baker, permanent secretary at the Department for Employment and Learning.

"To do so we will need a workforce with higher level qualifications; more focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills; and strong management and leadership skills."

'Securing our Success', the apprenticeship strategy for Northern Ireland, included the development of a skills barometer. It is an innovative tool which provides a detailed understanding of the skill requirements for our economy with forecasts of both the demand and supply of skills by level and sector.

Says Mr Baker: "It clearly highlights that there will be a strong need in our economy for people with intermediate and graduate level skills in STEM related subjects. There will also be growth opportunities for all skills levels across a range of sectors; however the focus will be predominately on higher level skills. It also identifies a strong emphasis on developing more general employability skills.

"These requirements will create a demand for programmes such as Higher Level Apprenticeships and Foundation Degrees. The Department's approach is to raise skills through the apprenticeship and youth training strategies, promotion of STEM, widening access to higher education and achieving excellence in further education.

"The skills barometer will also act as a driver for the further development of careers education, information, advice and guidance as it will provide students and their parents with information on the current and future labour market opportunities, as well as employment prospects, by level of education and by subject area. Businesses will be able to see subjects and sectors where demand is high and where they may need to invest in training."

He added: "It is acknowledged that increased skill levels help firms adapt more quickly, giving them more confidence to invest, to innovate and to grow.

"Our future leaders and managers should grasp the opportunities available to upskill in order to unlock the potential of their workforce and increase their productivity, and I commend the Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards in recognising the good work that has been done by many of our employers in supporting local talent."

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

:: The closing date for entries is at noon today.

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