Minister highlights importance of college-based HE learning

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons with Northern Regional College student David McMullan, who is taking part in the World Skills national final in CNC milling later this year. Picture: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

FURTHER education colleges in the north play a vital role in driving the region's economic recovery through the delivery of practical higher education courses.

During a visit to Northern Regional College's Ballymena campus, economy minister Gordon Lyons met staff and students to hear about some of the exceptional higher education courses available.

He toured the advanced manufacturing workshop, where students demonstrated the technical skills they have developed through their higher education programmes.

The minister said: “The opportunities available at our further education colleges are extensive, linked to employer need and provide opportunities for learners of all ages and all backgrounds to access a variety of pathways that lead to employment and further study.

“I was able to witness at first hand the top class facilities on offer at Northern Regional College where students can develop the practical side of their learning. This is valuable experience and builds skills which add to the employability and future prospects of learners.”

He added: “As we move into a decade of economic transformation around our 10X Economic Vision, we move into an era that will be defined by the application of technology, data and innovation. I want learners to access qualifications that employers need and want employers to have access to appropriately skilled and qualified learners.

“The number one challenge for businesses continues to be accessing the right skills and talent. Higher education pathways at the further education colleges are helping us to deliver on these ambitions and address this challenge through enhancing the talents of the current and future workforce.”

The minister also met a number of students who will be competing in the industrial robotics and CNC milling categories at the national finals of this year's WorldSkills UK in November, and the UK team in industrial robotics at the International WorldSkills competition in Luxembourg.

Christine Brown, vice principal teaching and learning at Northern Regional College, said: "It was great to welcome the minister to highlight the important and valuable contribution being made by the FE sector. Our colleges offer first class opportunities for students to study an array of courses that will provide them with valuable skills and qualifications that will support them into their next step in education or employment.

“As we face an increasing skills gap, the importance of seamless progression from study to career has never been more critical.

“Courses such as higher level apprenticeships give students key experiences in highly skilled sectors including accountancy, advanced manufacturing and cyber security and we are seeing growing numbers of students go straight into skilled roles with leading employers.

“With the results period fast approaching, his visit is a timely reminder that a partnership approach is essential to ensuring that students are equipped to make informed decisions in progressing to higher education.”