Strengthening skills base essential to grow our economy

DUP Assembly Member for Upper Bann Diane Dodds MLA has given her enthusiastic support for Northern Ireland Apprenticeship Week, running this year from 6th to 10th February, stating:

By Diane Dodds MLA

Upper Bann

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"Apprenticeships can transform individuals’ futures, and that of local businesses too. The quality of apprenticeship training in Northern Ireland is extraordinarily high, with opportunities across a broad range of sectors such as accountancy, beauty therapy, construction, engineering, hairdressing, transport and utilities. It is important to recognise the depth and quality of the talent within our local apprentices, their employers and training providers across so many disciplines.

Strengthening our local skills base and investing in skills is essential to grow our economy. It is vital that we equip our citizens and businesses with the skills they need within a constantly evolving jobs market and to help Northern Ireland succeed on the global stage. The DUP is committed to increasing the level of funding for skills, and expanding all age apprenticeships across key sectors of the economy.

When I served as Economy Minister I ensured an Apprenticeship Recovery Package during the Covid period to minimise apprenticeship job losses, maintain and grow the supply of apprenticeship opportunities, and support apprentices who had lost their apprenticeship. I allocated over £14 million to fund an Apprenticeship Return, Retain and Result initiative for up to 4,500 furloughed apprentices. I invested a further £12.5million in an Apprenticeship Recruitment Incentive initiative to encourage and support employers to create apprenticeship opportunities, and an Apprenticeship Challenge Fund supported innovative approaches to increase apprenticeship opportunities.

Apprenticeships are key to future success of the Northern Ireland economy. A period of unemployment at an early stage in a person's working life can have significant long term effects. We know that having a skilled workforce will be necessary in driving forward Northern Ireland’s economy, and the DUP have tried to instil a new apprenticeship culture across all sectors. Apprenticeships and Higher Level Apprenticeships are extremely important to the future of the Northern Ireland economy and offer a fantastic opportunity for apprentices to ‘earn and learn’ in a wide variety of career pathways. Meanwhile businesses benefit from adding to their skills base and growing their capacity and competitiveness.

I also helped launch a new Supply Chain and Logistics course for Higher Level Apprentices at Northern Regional College, where individuals would work with their employer four days a week and attend college one day to complete a Foundation Degree in Supply Chain and Logistics validated by Ulster University. On successful completion of the Foundation Degree, they would then be able to progress to a BSc degree in Business Studies at Ulster University.

Today’s apprentices can experience and gain even more from new apprenticeship offerings including High Level Apprenticeships. During the last Assembly mandate, Gordon Lyons and I as DUP Ministers for the Economy were also able to deliver in excess of 80 Assured Skills Academies with companies including PwC, Microsoft, Deloitte, KPMG and ASOS.”

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