Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships

28 January 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr David Hilditch
Mr Willian Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:
Mr Bill Brown ) Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland/Semta
Mr David Hatton )

The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey):
I welcome David Hatton and Bill Brown from the Engineering Training Council/Semta. I appreciate your offer to brief the Committee — you have been regular visitors and given the Committee useful information.

The evidence session will be recorded by Hansard and will form part of the Committee’s report. Although I say this at every Committee meeting, I stress that Committee members must turn off their mobiles phones, because they interfere with the recording equipment. Sometimes I meet Hansard staff in the corridor who give off to me about mobile-phone interference.

David and Bill, I shall hand over to you to make your presentations, and then members will have the opportunity to ask questions. Once again, thank you for being proactive.

Mr David Hatton (Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland/Semta):
Thank you for the invite to address the Committee. We have given evidence to the Committee before, and we hope that what we say is helpful and constructive. I will set the scene for Committee members, talk a little about the sector and try to put apprenticeships into perspective. Bill will then talk in more detail about some of the initiatives that we are developing for apprenticeships. I was going to mention young people, but apprenticeships are not just for young people — they are for people of all ages.

Bill and I have a lot of experience with apprenticeships: we have known each other for a long time and both started off working life as apprentices. Therefore, we understand the system, which has been modified, amended and improved over the years. To complete an apprenticeship, an apprentice must now reach a specific academic and practical standard.

We work for the Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland (ETCNI) and represent the Northern Ireland interests of the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies (Semta). We are involved in its committee structures and the issues that it addresses. There are quarterly four-nation meetings between Semta representatives from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which Bill chairs. That gives us an opportunity to see what is happening in other parts of the UK. We are also involved in examining apprenticeship initiatives in the Republic of Ireland.

Like all the regions within Semta, in Northern Ireland we have developed sector-skills agreements, which, in their simplest form, put employers at the heart of education and skills needs. We have undertaken a process with employers in Northern Ireland to identify their needs, and we try to get them to articulate, as accurately as possible, their specific needs. That is the first stage.

The second stage is looking at the supply side: the suppliers in Northern Ireland mainly comprise our colleges, universities and some private suppliers. We try to make sure that what employers demand, the supply side meets. From that, we try to develop action plans. To date, we have completed six sector skills agreements — aerospace, automotive, bioscience, electronics, marine, and metals, mechanical and electrical (MME). That also includes maintenance, which is one area that is cross-sectoral within our footprint, covering not just the engineering sector, but a much wider area.

In early 2008 we undertook a piece of research and, in June 2008, launched the sector skills balance sheet. That brought all our needs up to date and looked at some of the key issues affecting the sector at that point. Bill will explain that in more detail. I sent copies of the document to the Committee, and it can be downloaded from our website. If anyone is really interested, the full document — nearly 200 pages — is available.

Many important issues came out of the skills balance sheet. Two key areas relate to the upskilling of the existing workforce and to getting new entrants into the workforce, including craft apprenticeships, technician apprenticeships and the need for graduates. To remain competitive as we move forward, we are looking for jobs that are of higher value. It is very difficult for low skills to compete with foreign economies. We are looking for higher-value-added jobs, and, in order to do that, we need people with higher skills levels. Apprenticeships must be taken right through to level 3 and level 4, and the same must be done with upskilling, if we are to be competitive in the future. That is the direction that we are taking, and most of the companies that we deal with are also of that frame of mind.

As well as the issues of skills shortages that we have with indigenous employers, we also have issues around inward investment. To attract inward investment there must be a high-level, technical and professional workforce, as that is what will attract the higher value-added jobs. In order to do that, we need the professional and technical training infrastructure to deal with that. We have moved a long way toward that with the sector skills agreements, the balance sheet, and the work that we, as a sector skills council, do with the six regional colleges and two universities. A lot of excellent work has been undertaken.

Generally, the sector requires employees to have, at minimum, NVQ level 3. An individual with NVQ level 3, coming through an apprenticeship is ideally situated to feature in the sector and has the opportunity to progress even further. Many of the apprentices go onto level 4 and level 5. Some, who start off doing a technical certificate, such as a National Certificate, progress to the Higher National Certificate or the Higher National Diploma. There are many cases in which apprentices have taken up posts in which they have completed an engineering degree.

In Northern Ireland, the academic route is still favoured. We have tried to make engineering apprenticeships comparable to the academic route so that the vocational route is as attractive as the academic route. Therefore, we wanted to build in a high level of technical certificate. Many young people start our programme, complete all the necessary training requirements, attain the skills and gain high levels of technical certificate qualifications.

The skills balance sheet indicates that we are not meeting the target numbers of apprenticeships that we need. We are falling short of those numbers, and we need to look at that. We have considered initiatives to try to address the issue, and Bill will talk about some of those shortly.

We have had some very successful discussions with the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) — for example, age restrictions have now been removed. It was an issue, because funding was only available for people up to 24-years-old, and there was no funding beyond that. The Department has removed those restrictions, and we can now take apprentices on at virtually any age. We work with some companies that have semi-skilled adults working for them who have now transferred to apprenticeship programmes and are progressing up that skills level and, hopefully, getting paid accordingly.

We are trying to work in collaboration with colleges, universities, the Department for Employment and Learning, the Department of Education and Invest Northern Ireland, for the benefit of our sector.

Mr Bill Brown (Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland/Semta):
Thank you for the opportunity to talk to the Committee today. I will talk about the details in the skills balance sheet and highlight some key facts in it. David talked about the upskilling and apprenticeships as a means of replacing people who are retiring from our industries. That is the key issue.

The skills balance sheet and research shows that we need to upskill around 14,000 people, which is about 40% of our total core workforce. That is a significant number, and it is quite a task. We cannot put a time frame on that, but it is something that needs to start quickly. The Department has introduced specific programmes and provision, which will assist in that task, and David mentioned the all-age apprenticeships and the opportunity for upskilling to allow for apprenticeships for existing employees. Those apprentices could be fast-tracked, because they have experience in the workplace. They could probably complete an engineering apprenticeship programme in two years, rather than the normal three to four years. Therefore, there is a real opportunity to use that provision to do something about the need for upskilling.

Some 4% of the workforce is retiring each year, and if we take the next six years as a reasonable time period, we are looking at a need to replace about 24% of the total workforce. Therefore, we need to recruit around 900 people a year who will finish their apprenticeships. However, we must be cognisant of the fact that some of those people will leave for one reason or another. The retention rate in our sector is around 75% to 80%. Therefore, we are looking at a need to recruit around 1,200 per year just to replace those who are retiring or leaving for other reasons.

We currently recruit 400 apprentices, so we are only recruiting about one third of the people that we actually need. DEL gave me figures that show that across the disciplines in our sector, we recruited 418 engineering apprentices between September and December 2008, under Apprenticeship NI. We have in residence around 1,000 engineering apprentices. Over time, we need to ramp up the number of recruits who are coming in to around 1,000 to 1,200 a year. On average, programmes last for three years; therefore, there should be around 3,000 people occupying apprenticeships at whatever stage.

That is quite a task, and it is something that we will strive to achieve. We have to colour that with the current economic situation, because there will be some retardation of those numbers. However, the current situation might provide us with a window in which to do that ramping up and to take the actions that are necessary to do that. Those are the requirements, according to the survey that was done as part of that skills balance sheet for engineering in Northern Ireland.

Nobody is recruiting at present. By that, I mean that there are no proactive programmes in operation or actions being taken to go out, engage with employers and promote and drive recruitment. There are one or two exceptions to that: Engineering Training Services, which is a subsidiary of our organisation and which runs an apprenticeship programme; and the likes of Bombardier, which is proactive in recruiting for its particular needs.

Between them, Bombardier, Semta/ETCNI, Seven Towers Training — which supplies Wrightbus — and Larne Skills Development Ltd supply something like 60% of the total apprentices that are started each year. The other 40% are supplied through the further education colleges, but the colleges do not recruit apprentices. We think that that is a weakness, and that is an area that we want to address.

DEL has agreed to fund a feasibility study into a one-stop shop recruitment service, where we will go out, engage with the employers, and recruit for them in each of the six regions. We will deliver to the colleges a cohort of apprentices that will, it is hoped ramp up the numbers that are starting. A three-month feasibility study is under way to see whether that will work. If it does, DEL will fund us over the next couple of years to drive it forward. That could help us to increase the numbers.

We also need to look at the number of employers who are participating. Currently, only 30% of our employers participate out of a sector comprising 1,780 employers. Many of them are small and do not normally take apprentices. We need to increase that percentage, and over the next couple of years, we would like to drive it up to around 40%. That would go some way to help increase the number of apprentices who are starting in our sector and help the sector meet its overall needs.

We also want to look at the programme. Last year, Apprenticeship NI replaced Training for Success that replaced Jobskills. Therefore, the programme, and its design, have gone through some iterations. We want to propose to DEL some further modifications to that programme to take into account a modification of the funding categories, which will include the centralised recruitment service on an ongoing basis, beyond this project, in each of the six regions. That way, recruitment becomes part of the funded programme, because it costs money to advertise in the press, for instance.

We also want the programme to include a directed training provision. Many employers do not have the facilities that the likes of Bombardier or Schlumberger enjoy. Those companies have a dedicated space in their workshops, or other facilities, in which to provide a short period of, say, four- to six- weeks’ directed off-the-job training, before releasing the young people into the workforce.

A number of employers — particularly those who are outwith our sector, such as Allied Bakeries and some employers in the fibres industry — do not have the engineering facilities in-house to provide directed training. Therefore we want to try to build that into part of the programme. It is a key need, and we believe that a number of employers would welcome it. We are consulting with them on that basis.

We would also like to look at the total funding, from DEL, that is enjoyed by the apprenticeship programme in Northern Ireland. A three-year apprenticeship costs £12,300. Funding is higher in England, so we want to evaluate how we can bridge that gap and perhaps offer additional funding that would cover some of the additional elements in the programme that we believe will strengthen it.

We want to examine the potential benefits of extending Training for Success — the pre-apprenticeship programme that is mostly operated by the further-education sector — into programme-led apprenticeships, perhaps with the provider as the employer. However, before we get into all of that, we want to establish whether there is a widespread demand for this approach, because we are in the mode of a demand-led system. The employers should articulate what their needs are.

As a sector skills council, we will engage with the employers to establish whether there is a need, a desire and a justification for this proposal. We and Semta still prefer to go the employed route in which apprentices are employed from day one and there are commitments on all parties to make sure that those apprenticeships are completed.

We are currently consulting 25 of our key employers who have regularly taken on apprentices to assess the benefits of the system and to justify it. As I said earlier, as part of the need to upskill 14,000 of the existing employees, we want to promote the take-up by employers of fast-track apprenticeships in their existing workforce. We have a pilot programme for maintenance apprentices that began in September 2008. The Northern Regional College is currently running this two-year fast-track programme for existing employees from participating employers. We will study how that programme develops. Perhaps we can grow it. It could certainly be an exemplar of what could be done for the rest of the workforce.

Last, but by no means least, we have in the past developed a code of practice for engineering apprentices. We liaise very closely with the Education and Training Inspectorate as it reviews how the current programme works. That inspection process is very good in itself. However, we want to encapsulate all of the procedures that exist in our programme; get them down on paper; rate the programme suppliers and the employers against that code of practice and the standards that we would build in the programme; review the compliance; and measure the performance while liaising with the Education and Training Inspectorate about combining its criteria with the criteria that we have in our code of practice. Those are the actions that we are taking to try to address what has been published in our sector skills balance sheet for engineering in Northern Ireland.

The Chairperson:
Thank you very much for that, Bill and David, and for the paper that you provided to the Committee. We wrote to the Minister for Employment and Learning seeking his views on Gordon Brown’s recent announcement in England. I will keep you informed once we receive a response from the Minister.

It is quite useful that not only are you raising areas of concern, but you are putting in place proposals to try to deal with the issue. That will help the Committee when we consider the overall issue of apprenticeships. One of the key issues that David mentioned was the age limit. The Committee was quite vocal about trying to get rid of the cap on age.

It is useful to find out about the codes of practice when you talked about the Education and Training Inspectorate because we also have concerns about the issue. Training for Success replaced the Jobskills programme, so it is possible that some vulnerable people in our society were abused in order to achieve apprenticeships. The Committee has genuine concerns about that. It is helpful that those who are close to the grindstone regarding the issue are quite keen to ensure that the inspectorate is with you every step of the way.

I will now open up the session for members to comment or ask questions. A couple of members have already indicated that they want to contribute.

Mr Newton:
I am extremely pleased to see the very proactive approach and the high quality of what is being done in response to problems. Well done to the organisation.

I am not sure whether my question is one that the witnesses posed in their paper — it is about how apprentices can be helped to survive the downturn, and how the present system of apprenticeships may evolve to become more robust in the face of an economic downturn. You have divided those issues into several areas.

Do you agree that some apprentices in Northern Ireland receive a much better quality of training than others, and that, during their training, economic ill winds do not impact upon them as much as those other apprentices? I am thinking of some of the companies that you mentioned — Bombardier, Wrightbus and others — which pretty well guarantee a job to apprentices who do all that is required of them. However, if an apprentice joins the “ABC” engineering company, in some other part of the Province, and there is an economic downturn, he or she is likely to be paid off. Unfortunately, the Committee has heard from employers who were paying off apprentices.

The Minister has instigated a “contingency programme of foster companies”. My feeling is that that has not been overly successful. There is not a big take-up. In respect of the quality of your approach, and the problems of the economic downturn, how can apprentices be protected? How can they be assured that if they behave themselves during their apprenticeships, they are likely to emerge with their qualifications? I suspect that the economic downturn means that many apprentices will never gain their qualifications, because they will find another job somewhere else. How are apprentices protected in that situation?

Mr B Brown:
Engineering must be put in the context of the total number of redundancies that are happening right now. Of course, we are not at the end of it yet; there is a bit to go. Up until now, we in the engineering sector have not seen a large number of apprentices made redundant. We have probably had less than 20, which is not a lot.

Indeed, several employers — although not as many as we would like — have made specific commitments to foster apprentices under the proposed scheme. For instance, Michelin, which is one of our companies, has offered to place up to 30 apprentices alongside its maintenance engineers. That will allow them to complete their technical classes at college, provide workplace training, and satisfy the vocational qualification needs, thus enabling them to complete their apprenticeship framework.

David’s and my old company, Harland and Wolff, although much smaller than it once was, has offered two fabricator/fitter apprenticeships and two computer-aided-design technician apprenticeships. Those positions are on offer to young people who have been made redundant elsewhere. In fact, two of the redundant apprentices from one of our employers, Olympic Lifts, have applied for one each of those specific offers.

However, there has not been a big take-up of those placement offers. Part of the problem in Northern Ireland appears to be that people do not want to travel. I do not know why that is the case, because it is one and a half hours to anywhere in Northern Ireland, but there you go. We are where we are, and people do not want to move much beyond working for the company at the end of their street. That is a difficulty. The offer is there, but we cannot offer placements in every company and in every locality. Nevertheless, we do our best, and our employers are responding. This is not the end of the story, and there will probably be more developments, given the news that we have been hearing over the past several days. The construction sector is suffering the most; it has much larger numbers of apprentices.

Mr Hatton:
A culture had been created in engineering in which an apprentice who started an apprenticeship programme would never be made redundant unless the company closed. Once an apprenticeship had begun, the person would tend to complete it. That culture is not as strong in others sectors, but it is very strong in our sector, and when someone starts an apprenticeship, specific agreements are made with the apprentice, with the company, and, if the apprentice is under 18 years of age, with the parents. It is a rigid and robust system.

Furthermore, the nature of the work that we do and the contacts that we have with other companies means if an apprentice is made redundant, we can usually get them employed somewhere else. I have not seen that happen yet, and I hope that it does not become an issue in our sector. The companies that take on apprentices are the better companies in Northern Ireland. They are pro-training companies, and they know that they require a skilled workforce, not just now, but in two or three years’ time.

Mr Newton:
Is the approach that you have just outlined applicable to any sector of industry?

Mr Hatton:
Yes, it is, but there has to be the wherewithal to do it, and people have to have the experience of doing it. Bill mentioned the Engineering Training Services programme, which has been running since the early 1990s. It is established, well recognised and well subscribed to by young people who want to take up an apprenticeship. It is well supported by careers teachers in schools, because they know that right from the start, it is an apprenticeship and that the young person is employed by a company. It is not a training programme per se; it is training, but the individual concerned is employed and is earning a wage. There is a much greater rigour built into that programme than some others, but I can only talk about our programme. If a young person is made redundant, the shared nature of our situation allows us to help.

Mr B Brown:
To be fair, we have not been hit nearly as hard as the construction industry has been. It has been reported that 400 apprentices have been made redundant in that sector. It is hard times for small building firms, and it becomes impossible for them to retain someone on an apprenticeship.

Mr Newton:
I acknowledge that the industry is different, but the principles that you are articulating —

Mr B Brown:
The principles should hold.

Rev Dr Robert Coulter:
Thank you for coming here today; you made a very interesting presentation. I have two or three questions to ask, the first of which is about non-completion rates. Is there any follow-up on apprentices who drop out of the scheme, and is there any deep analysis of the reasons that they did so? Is there any possibility of giving them a second chance?

My second question is about the relationship between the regional colleges and the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), especially in computer numerical control (CNC) training, in which apprentices who are employed by small firms go to the college. One of the complaints that I have heard in the past is that the training that they are getting is not for the work that they do in their workplace. Many small firms have only one CNC machine, and they cannot afford to stop it in order to train an apprentice. Is there any liaison between the colleges and the companies, so that apprentices are trained in college for the work that they will do in the workplace.

Thirdly, what approaches do you make to schools and colleges about recruitment of apprentices?

Mr Hatton:
I will answer your third question first. If there are shortages and we need to encourage more people to take up apprenticeships, careers activities in schools are critically important. For example, we have spent a lot of time with careers teachers, with technology teachers, and so forth. A lot of effort goes into careers activities in schools, particularly at the start of the year — this time of the year is very busy, because many companies want to recruit around September time, so now is a good time to get information out to young people.

Therefore, we do a lot of work with regard to careers, and we promote the sector tremendously. I have given evidence to the Committee as a representative of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), which does a lot of work — as we do — to promote apprenticeships, and graduates too. We are trying to change the perception of engineering — some people have a certain view of engineering that is not right. Although we have not been as successful as we would like to be, we have tried to get more females to take up a career in engineering.

One big issue that we are working on is skills competitions in Northern Ireland, because the WorldSkills championship in 2011 is being held in London. We are looking at skills competitions, not just for the sake of it, but to let other young people see 18- and 19-year-olds competing, see the type of skills that they have and see the type of technology that is in our sector, which might inspire them to take a job in our sector.

If a small company has only one CNC machine tool, it is very difficult for a college to meet its training needs specifically, because there is such a wide range of tools. Therefore, colleges try to identify common areas in CNC, such as health and safety, programming and measuring the finished component.

Colleges can also lay on specific training for young people that cannot be provided in a workshop. A good example of that is a programme that will happen in the next few weeks. In partnership with the South Eastern Regional College, we have arranged for 16 or 18 young apprentices to take part in a basic engineering programme for a week at its Lisburn campus. That programme will include health and safety and basic engineering skills, and the apprentices and their employers will benefit. That also gives us an opportunity to meet the apprentices individually, try to encourage them and tell them that they are involved in a career, not just a job. Those are the issues that we try to wrestle with.

Mr B Brown:
We have also just embarked on an engineering campaign in many secondary schools. As part of that, we have appointed 11 exemplars to go into the educational sector, to try to promote engineering as a career and to establish themselves as exemplars of success from that career route.

Mr Hatton:
That programme starts tomorrow morning. At the beginning of the meeting, I spoke about partnership and collaboration. I am sure that the Committee is sick of hearing me say this, but we cannot have all organisations going off and doing their own thing — we must work collectively. Therefore, through the engineering campaign, the ETC and the Learning and Skills Development Agency, we have — as Bill said — organised eight events in companies, in which we invite careers teachers from local schools. The first one will take place tomorrow not too far from here at Thales Air Defence Ltd, at which 16 careers teachers will be in attendance. The careers teachers will be welcomed by a senior person in the company, and there will be a whole programme in the morning dedicated to careers and related issues. It will culminate in a factory tour, so that careers teachers can see what engineering is like. Several other events have been planned for companies such as Almac Sciences; Seagate Technology in Springtown, Derry; and Wright Group.

The sector’s drop-out rate is not high. When we examine the people who cease to continue on the programme, they tend to be young people who have not realised that because they are working they must, therefore, comply with terms and conditions of employment — for example, young people who are supposed to go to college on day release, but instead go to watch a movie. When a company finds out, it can result in termination of a young person’s position. Therefore, a certain number of leavers in the sector are young people who have not complied with the terms and conditions of employment.

If people are not meeting the standard that is expected of them, we give them additional training, encouragement and coaching. We work with the company to try to overcome those problems so that they can improve and become good engineers. Some young people play up a bit. It might be the nature of their age and one thing and another. However, given the right circumstances, they can turn out to be excellent craft and technician apprentices.

Mr B Brown:
As David said, the number of leavers includes people who have been fired for non-compliance with the programme. Perhaps, to be fair — and you make a good point — we can do more. There is an opportunity. If we retain only 75% or 80% in our particular sector, there is loss and waste. We must examine waste and, perhaps, do more than we do at present.

There is a requirement in the apprenticeship programmes for reviews and follow-up for people who have left and not returned, in order to make contact with them and find out what problems they have.

In some cases, over and above what David has mentioned, the programme is too rigorous for some people. Engineering demands higher-tech skills. Some of the young people who begin the programme have not achieved GCSE grade-C level; they may be at grade-D level, or lower. Perhaps, they have a problem with the essential skills training, which they cannot cope with. Sometimes, they lose heart and leave simply because they cannot cope with the programme. That is another factor. However, we can do more to tackle all of those factors and to deal with that wastage. We should not miss that opportunity.

Ms Lo:
You seem to be quite proactive in recruiting new apprentices. I am pleased to hear that the drop-out rate is low and that the industry is doing well. Are you active in recruiting people who have recently been made redundant now that there is flexibility with regard to age?

Mr Hatton:
When you say “we”, do you mean companies in our sector?

Ms Lo:
Yes, you and DEL, together.

Mr Hatton:
Certainly, companies in the sector use that opportunity to recruit. We have examined contingency issues. We have approached companies and asked them to help and support what we are doing. We have been able to get people who have been made redundant from certain companies into apprenticeships with other companies. Thank goodness, only a small number of apprentices have been made redundant. At present, therefore, any apprentice who has been made redundant during the process of their apprenticeship has been fixed up with employment somewhere else.

Mr B Brown:
If we are trying to grow apprenticeships, we must examine the cohort of people of all ages who have been made redundant: should they not have the opportunity to embark on apprenticeships in the future? We must include them and welcome their applications.

Ms Lo:
Can people who have been made redundant from other industries, such as construction, cross over into your apprenticeships?

Mr Hatton:
There was a case in which two motivated joiners came into the sector, and, with some retraining, fitted in very well. The skills that joiners have — good hand skills, reading drawings, health and safety — are similar to those of engineers, and those two people were particularly well motivated. There are opportunities for that: it comes back to the two key points that came out of the skills balance sheet — upskilling, and, in the case of people made redundant, reskilling.

Ms Lo:
My second question concerns upskilling. Currently within the industry, around 40% of employees need upskilling. What approaches are you taking to help them? The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has a levy and provides grants. Do you do something similar?

Mr B Brown:
DEL provides funding for all training in the workplace. That is a recent commitment that the Department has made, particularly in relation to business improvement techniques and soft skills that develop productivity and competitiveness in the local industry. That is very good news. Fifteen companies have taken that up, and the cost of training and delivery will be met by DEL. It is very proactive of the Department to include that.

In upskilling the existing workforce, the fast-track apprenticeship is the best way to bring employees from a level 2 to a level 3 or level 4. That would be funded in the same way as any other apprenticeship.

Mr Hatton:
Recently, I dealt with a couple of well-qualified people with electrical-installation skills; they were recruited into a company as maintenance engineers. With their electrical engineering and electronics experience, plus their qualifications and essential skills, they slotted in really well, and it was an opportunity for them to undertake some retraining. There are skills and disciplines from some other sectors that fit well with our sector requirements.

The CITB is a statutory body, so it can lift a levy. I am aware of no other organisation in the training-for-skills field that can do that in NI. We have to rely on making a good case to both DEL and to Invest Northern Ireland, in order to get funding for our sector.

Mrs McGill:
You are both welcome. Bill, you spoke about the directed off-the-job training, and the funding that exists for that. At any time that would be very welcome, but is particularly welcome at this stage. You said that there will be five or six centres providing that type of training. Where would those centres be? I am particularly interested in having one in the north-west or the south-west. The figures — admittedly, only for a fortnight — show that more people in those areas are leaving, for whatever reason. Therefore, directed off-the-job training in those areas would be very welcome. The funding is there, and it is a short five-week or six-week programme. Clearly, there are no Bombardiers in Derry, Omagh or Enniskillen, so how will you manage that?

Mr B Brown:
Seagate Technology in Derry is a very large employer. It is important that that training is spread across the six regions as covered by the further education regional colleges, and the various campuses in each of those regions. For example, one of those campuses, or an independent training organisation in each region, could be set up and funded to deliver directed off-the-job training.

I was talking about directed off-the-job training, however, in the context of apprenticeships. After recruitment, instead of being thrown into the workplace with no knowledge of its processes, equipments, and so on, the apprentice would go to that place of directed off-the-job training to get some generic practical skills that he could take to the workplace. That would acquaint the apprentice with all of the technology with which he would be faced when he went into the workplace and provide him with some of the knowledge that he would need on the day that he started in the employer’s premises.

The Chairperson:
A female apprentice would know all of that already.

Mr B Brown:
She would, absolutely.

Mrs McGill:
If such facilities did exist, it would be helpful if they could, to some extent, accommodate young people who wanted to take up an apprenticeship but could not find an employer. That is why I made reference to the current times.

Mr B Brown:
You are referring to programme-led apprenticeships, which I mentioned as being an alternative to the employed apprenticeship. Perhaps some of that, but not necessarily all of it, could be carried out in a central training facility. There would still have to some placement with the final employer.

Mr Hatton:
The difficulty is with providing the apprentice with experience. Training is important, but experience is needed on top of it. If young people were simply to undertake training at a training facility, they could never meet all of the requirements of the apprenticeship framework. Although training is excellent and vitally important, young people need to have experience in industry. We have considered a project through which, having provided off-the-job directed training, a training provider such as has been mentioned could get an apprentice into a company to get that experience and be assessed in an on-the-job situation.

Mr B Brown:
Perhaps Mrs McGill is advocating the idea of a throwback to the Government training centres that used to be in place. Perhaps we had too many of those and were churning out a lot of people who did not end up with a job. David, you had much experience of working with those.

Mr Hatton:
I remember talking to a couple of people at Maydown training centre in the north-west. Those people had undergone training course after training course, and they asked me whether there was any chance of getting a job instead of doing another training course. That hit home to me how important it is for people to do training and, having had that training, try to get an appropriate job.

Mrs McGill:
At this time, should we not be ensuring that, when the upturn comes, young people are in place to pick up the jobs that become available?

Mr Hatton:
That is a very valid point. The problem that our sector — and most sectors — faces is that, if companies were to stop training and recruiting and training providers were not to provide training, it would prove difficult to try to switch the tap of recruitment on and off. Therefore, it is important that the colleges and others continue to provide that training. It would be very difficult to link that in with employers so that young people could see the real world of work and simulate skills totally off the job for three years. We are, however, considering programmes of a similar nature, because the unusual economic circumstances that we currently face need to be dealt with in special ways.

Mr Hilditch:
The report indicates that around a quarter of the people who are in higher education are studying outside of Northern Ireland. Are those people then lost to the sector, or is there a record of them coming back to us?

Mr Brown:
Reports indicate that many students who go to universities outside Northern Ireland do not come back. In fact, they get engaged with employers in the areas where they have resided at university. Therefore, they are a loss to us.

Mr Hilditch:
Almost a quarter of students do not come back.

Mr B Brown:
DEL has instituted campaigns to try to welcome back graduates to Northern Ireland to help the economy here. At the end of the day, personal choice will drive such a decision, but packages must be attractive, and there must be jobs available for them.

Ms Lo:
If they meet a partner over there, then they are lost.

Mr Hatton:
It seems to be the girls who go and do not come back. The fellows come back; they need to be with their mothers.

The Chairperson:
We will not get into that. Thank you for coming today. It is useful to have discussion and debate on the matter, as it helps the Committee with its inquiry on the way forward for apprenticeships. As I said earlier, you are at the coalface, and you were not shy in highlighting the positives and the negatives.

I hope that that we continue our relationship throughout the inquiry. You can tell us whether what we are doing is right or wrong, and vice versa. In that way, we can tease out some of the proposals. We act as a conduit for the people, and we can guide the Department and its officials on the way ahead. Once again, thank you.

Mr B Brown:
Thank you very much for the opportunity.

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