FE Colleges join in pioneering scheme to address skills deficit

Employers in Northern Ireland are struggling with the most acute staff shortages since the 1990s
Gary McDonald Business Editor

SIX further education colleges in the north have been selected alongside a number of their counterparts in Britain to become part of WorldSkills UK’s new Centre of Excellence, a revolutionary scheme aimed at attracting inward investment and generating economic growth.

The pioneering project, the brainchild of Belfast-born Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann, will see more than 40,000 young people from all socio-economic groups being armed with world-class skills.

It comes as employers in Northern Ireland are struggling with the most acute staff shortages since the 1990s, amid the rush to reopen from lockdown and a sharp drop in overseas workers due to Covid and Brexit.

Recruitment firms have been flagging up hiring challenges across several sectors of the economy, led by shortfalls in areas such as transport and logistics, hospitality, manufacturing and construction.

There have been major difficulties recruiting chefs, kitchen porters, cleaners and warehouse staff, but issues for employers are spreading to typically higher-paying sectors such as finance, IT, accounting and engineering.

The WorldSkills UK Centre of Excellence – which will be delivered via Belfast Metropolitan College, Northern Regional College, Southern Regional College, South Eastern Regional College, North West Regional College and South West College– aims to mainstream world-class skills by developing a cadre of world-class technical educators.

The three-year pilot project, which began last September, is already impacting more than 20 educational institutions and nearly 1,000 educators across the UK.

The programme will see educators across Northern Ireland receive exclusive training with over 60 hours of intensive Continual Personal Development.

The programme covers three strands - train the trainer modules; real time harnessing of international industry best practice through current preparation for WorldSkills Shanghai 2022; and influencing setters of training standards.

Dr Bentley-Gockman, as chief executive of WorldSkills UK, is at the forefront of skills development in the UK, working internationally to gain insight and expertise from skills systems right across the globe.

He said: “In order to deliver the world class skills that employers demand to be internationally competitive, we need to invest in the educators who are training young people for the future. This latest initiative has proved to be hugely oversubscribed – and we are working tirelessly to help as many young women and men as possible.

“We are mainstreaming excellence in training standards and delivering it directly to tens of thousands of young students and apprentices at their places of learning which is key to boosting the economy by attracting inward investment and creating high quality jobs – and that is what we are delivering for the benefit of all.

“World Skills UK are uniquely placed to undertake such a project, utilising over 65 years of international benchmarking experience, having mentored and trained thousands of young people to world-class standards, in dozens of technical disciplines and tested in elite international competition.”

Brian Doran, chief executive and principal of Southern Regional College said: “By tapping into the expertise that already exists within the team of WorldSkills UK high performance coaches and using best practice from across the globe, we are building a more inclusive and higher skilled workforce that can support more young people to achieve high standards and work skills that meet employer needs, especially in growth sectors.”

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