Economy Minister urged to produce the detail of £17m apprenticeship package

Economy Minister Diane Dodds announced a £17m apprenticeship recovery package on Thursday, two weeks after the funding allocation was confirmed.
Ryan McAleer

ECONOMY Minister Diane Dodds has been urged to speed up the roll out of a £17 million package for apprenticeships, with a stark warning that time is running out for employers.

The DUP minister officially announced the recovery plan on Thursday, two weeks after the Department of Finance first confirmed a £17.2m allocation for the package.

However, yesterday’s announcement was light on detail.

In a statement, Ms Dodds said: “The package will include financial support to incentivise Northern Ireland businesses to return apprentices from furlough, retain them through this period of unprecedented uncertainty and continue their employment until they achieve their apprenticeship result.

“I will also be directing funding to incentivise employers to take on new apprentices and at enhancing the supply of apprenticeship opportunities.”

The Department for the Economy said further details would be announced “in due course”.

Ken Webb, chair of the Further Education Colleges Principals’ Group welcomed the funding, but warned that employers unlikely to commit to taking on new apprentices or even retain current ones without information on what incentives will be available.

“Time is running out and apprentices and employers need to know the fine detail of what will be included in this package to plan for the future,” he said.

Mary Meehan, deputy chief executive of Manufacturing NI also welcomed the £17.2m.

“However firms need immediate access to the schemes now to focus on retention and recruitment of candidates,” she added.

“With almost half of level two and level three apprenticeships and three quarters of higher level apprenticeships still furloughed, companies are having to make very difficult choices now on whether existing apprenticeships return to work and/or whether they can take on new ones.

“Without a detailed breakdown of the funding allocation and how companies can access it, we fear that the industry will lose excellent candidates who have already started their career into manufacturing and those considering it.”

The chair of Stormont’s Economy Committee, Caoimhe Archibald echoed the concerns.

“Employers and colleges are calling for urgent clarity in relation to the interventions that will be put in place and I would urge the Economy Minister to ensure that is forthcoming as soon as possible,” said the Sinn Féin MLA.

"Employers and young people need certainty to be able to make decisions and those decisions are being made now."

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