Economy Minister Diane Dodds today announced employers will be offered £3,700 for every apprentice that they bring back from furlough and retain until they have completed their apprenticeship.
Also, £3,000 per apprentice will be available to employers for each new apprenticeship opportunity created between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021.
Announcing details of her Apprenticeship Recovery Package, the Minister said: “Today, I am pleased to announce detail on three initiatives that will form the backbone of my Department’s Apprenticeship Recovery Package. I want to minimise apprenticeship job losses, maintain and grow the supply of apprenticeship opportunities and support apprentices who have been displaced and lost their apprenticeship.”
The Minister has secured an additional £17.2million funding from the Executive to help bolster our local apprenticeship system as it battles the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. This has been supplemented with additional Department funds.
The Minister said: “I have allocated a total of £14.3million to fund an Apprenticeship Return, Retain and Result initiative. I want to encourage the return to work, retention and qualification of up to 4,500 furloughed apprentices in both the ApprenticeshipsNI and Higher Level Apprenticeship programmes.”
The scheme will begin on 1 November 2020, when the UK wide Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ends. It offers 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.
Support will take the form of a £500 return payment followed by up to £2,000 for an employer who retains their apprentice for four months following their return from furlough. A final result payment of £1,200 will be made when the apprentice completes their qualification.
The Minister has also allocated a total of £12.5million to fund an Apprenticeship Recruitment Incentive initiative to encourage and support employers to create apprenticeship opportunities for both new apprentices and apprentices who have been made redundant. This scheme offers support of £3,000, to employers, for each new apprenticeship opportunity created between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021.
This will apply to all new apprenticeship opportunities created in this period, and the payment will apply equally to employers of all sizes and in all sectors right across Northern Ireland.
The Minister added: “Finally, my Department will also be launching an Apprenticeship Challenge Fund in late September. This fund will support innovative approaches and new collaborations to increase apprenticeship opportunities in Northern Ireland. Successful applicants could receive one off awards of up to £50,000.
“I am committed to doing everything within my power to ensure the continued development of an effective skills pipeline which will support the needs of both employers and our economy whilst also providing valuable employment for our young people.”
The initiatives have been welcomed by employers, training providers and apprenticeship organisations.
Mark Huddleston, Managing Director of employers JHE Solutions said: “Apprenticeships are key to future inclusive growth and success of the Northern Ireland economy. This support provides an opportunity for business to retain talent and skills. Significant investment has been made by employers and training providers in developing skills and this funding enables apprentices to complete their apprenticeship. Importantly, it also provides a significant incentive to maintain apprenticeship training through recruitment support, creating much needed opportunities for young people.”
Dennis Murray, General Manager from training provider Impact Training, said: “A period of unemployment at an early stage in a person's working life can have significant long term effects. This package of measures will allow employers to bring apprentices back from furlough and ensure young people get the opportunity to complete their qualifications and remain fully engaged in the labour market.”
Ken Webb, who is principal of South Eastern Regional College and Chairperson of the Further Education Colleges Principals’ Group, said: “We welcome the initiatives announced by Minister Dodds and believe that these will be vital in maintaining and growing apprenticeships across Northern Ireland.
“What we have been hearing from employers is that they are still committed to apprenticeships but need more financial support to take this forward. These new initiatives will enable employers to put in place plans for the future, including committing to the recruitment of new apprentices and ensuring Northern Ireland’s skills needs are met. All of the further education colleges are committed to working alongside employers to create fulfilling opportunities for apprentices.
“We know that having a skilled workforce will be necessary in driving forward Northern Ireland’s economic recovery and it is really encouraging to see the Economy Minister and Executive invest heavily in apprenticeships.”
Richard Kirk, Chief Executive Officer of Workplus, said: “This is not only good news in the short term, but in the long-run this supports a new apprenticeship culture across all sectors in Northern Ireland, placing people at the heart of our economic recovery.”
Further details of the package, along with information on how employers can apply for support, will be announced in coming days.