Education news

Higher skills ambition needed for Northern Ireland

Martin Flynn, OCN NI Chief Executive

NORTHERN Ireland risks slipping further behind other countries in the skills of its workforce, a new report by a leading research institute has found.

Learning and Work Institute looked at how the skills of the north's workforce were likely to compare to other regions by 2030.

It found that in 2030 Northern Ireland will have a substantially higher proportion of people qualified below the equivalent of GCSE level than the OECD average (17.4 compared to 12.8 per cent).

It will also have a lower proportion with at least a degree-level qualification (44.9 compared to 47.8 per cent).

The report, commissioned by Open College Network NI (OCN NI), said the north would have the fourth highest proportion of low qualified people out of 16 OECD comparators.

In comparison, the Republic would be joint first for the proportion of people with high qualifications and have the joint lowest proportion with low qualifications.

The report called for the Northern Ireland Executive to set a new higher ambition for skills, backed by investment. It argued for increased investment in learning and skills, making learning a key part of other public services like health, and taking a more joined-up approach with government, employers and individuals working together.

Martin Flynn, OCN NI Chief Executive said the report provided a glimpse into what the future may be like, in terms of the north's skills profile.

"While the report shows that Northern Ireland's skills are likely to improve over the next 10 years, we will still remain behind other countries. The report provides the executive with an opportunity to set a higher skills ambition in Northern Ireland, which in turn will contribute to improved economic growth, social justice and community cohesion," he said.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said driving forward the skills agenda and providing opportunities for people to learn "has never been more important".

"In a rapidly evolving global economy, it is imperative that we use skills to position Northern Ireland and its skilled workforce prominently in the global market. Taking forward this agenda will be central to my new skills strategy," she added.

Her executive colleague and Education Minister Peter Weir said he was committed to ensuring that the education system enabled young people to develop the knowledge and skills required to respond to the rapid change taking place in the labour market, driven by technological advance and global economic activity.

"It is crucial that they have the tools to allow them to fulfil their potential. Our curriculum, with a focus on personal capabilities and skills, will help to ensure that our young people are equipped to meet the changing demands of business and the economy," said.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute, said the importance of learning and skills had been heightened by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Many more people will need help to find work or to retrain. Our report shows that Northern Ireland's skills are likely to improve, but still lag behind other countries. If we want a prosperous, fair and inclusive Northern Ireland, we need to invest in a higher ambition for learning and skills," he said.

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