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Economy Minister Diane Dodds today announced funding of more than £500,000 for 13 projects through the Apprenticeship Challenge Fund.

The projects are located across Northern Ireland and will support new and innovative approaches to the development, recruitment and delivery of apprenticeships.

Projects include collaborations between local government, the voluntary and private sectors, and further and higher education institutions.

The Minister highlighted the benefits the projects will deliver: “I am keenly aware of the important role boosting our skills base will have in the recovery, and apprenticeships will be a key part of that. These projects include collaborations between organisations with extensive expertise in teaching, training and engagement with employers.

“This funding will seek to address barriers to participation in the apprenticeship system via a range of activities, including mentoring programmes, development of new pathways and engagement with employers to support those who have not previously benefited from engaging with the apprenticeship system.”

The Minister added: “I know there are many local people who have been hit hard by the economic impact of the pandemic. Apprenticeships offer opportunities for those who want to upskill or reskill in new areas.

“Apprenticeships enable people to earn while they learn the specific skills required by the economy. Meanwhile businesses benefit from adding to their skills base and growing their capacity and competitiveness.

“I urge anyone who is interested in an apprenticeship to look out for any opportunity to engage with these projects.”

The Apprenticeship Challenge Fund complements the Apprenticeship Recovery Packages the Minister announced in September 2020, which offer up to £3,700 of support, per apprentice, to employers who return an apprentice from furlough and retain them until they have completed their apprenticeship.

She also announced the Apprenticeship Recruitment Incentive which offers support of £3,000 to employers for each new apprenticeship opportunity created between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021.