Skills gap can be closed by improved apprenticeships

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 22 June 2009

Reference: E&L07/08/09

Improved apprenticeships are the way forward for the Northern Ireland economy. This is the message that the Northern Ireland Assembly heard today at a debate led by the Assembly’s Committee for Employment and Learning. The debate, which focused on the Apprenticeship NI programme, came after a six month Committee Inquiry into the way forward for apprenticeships.

Chairperson of the Committee, Sue Ramsey MLA said: “The Committee undertook the inquiry on the Apprentice NI programme based on two fundamental questions: why don’t more employers take up apprenticeships; and why do apprenticeships lack status and profile?

“Apprenticeships are vital to the development of skills needed by our workforce to compete in the global economy. Unfortunately apprenticeships, along with providing lifelong learning to existing workers, are often the first cuts that employers make in an economic downturn. We particularly need to find ways to encourage our small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to take on apprentices as these businesses make up the bulk of our private sector.”

During the debate, MLAs called for apprenticeships to be better focussed on the needs of business. They also agreed that efforts must be made to boost the image of apprenticeships as a career pathway equal to going to university.

Deputy Chairperson of the Committee, Robin Newton MLA added, “The Committee wanted to look at ways to make the current apprenticeships programme more ‘recession-proof’. More than 1,500 apprentices have been made redundant since the beginning of September 2008.

“Members are keen to move apprenticeships forward as a key element of our economic development. Significant numbers of senior managers in our top companies began their careers as apprentices. An apprenticeship, when properly organised and supported, is an excellent pathway to the highest level in many sectors.”
The Committee’s recommendations will be presented to the Employment and Learning Minister, Sir Reg Empey to enable a partnership approach between the Minister and Committee.

The Committee will also be developing the themes contained in its Apprenticeships Report with the Minister, Sir Reg, in the months to come and intends to play a leading role in the renaissance of apprenticeships.

ENDS

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