Skills are key driver for economic growth goals

Dr. Stephen FarryDepartment for Employment and Learning.

MY DEPARTMENT has supported The Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards since their inception seven years ago and it is encouraging to see that it continues to go from strength to strength.

The awards recognise excellence in the workplace and reinforce the message that it is our people that are our most important asset and their aims clearly support the skills work being taken forward by my department.

Skills are widely accepted as the key raw material in the modern knowledge-based economy and are the key driver in how we in Northern Ireland can achieve our economic goals.

My department works closely with employers in engineering, manufacturing, financial services and ICT, to name but a few, who repeatedly tell us how central skills are to their business. Sectors such as these are likely to be key to the future growth of the Northern Ireland economy.

The skills of our workforce have a vital role to play in helping the region reach its full potential. And this is the principle that is behind my department’s Skills Strategy for Northern Ireland.

The strategy looks at our current skills base and examines the skills we will need in the future to grow our economy. This 10-year strategy sets out the long-term direction of travel and articulates the skills profile that will be required to meet the current and future needs of business in Northern Ireland. To achieve this skills profile we must do more than simply invest in the skills of our young people leaving school, college and university – the challenge is more urgent since approximately 80 per cent of our 2020 workforce is already in employment. This shows that there needs to be a focus on building the skills of those people already in the workforce in order to meet future challenges.

We must show companies that investing in skills and training has a positive impact on their existing workforce – helping to create better staff morale, better retention rates, increased flexibility and ultimately positively impacting on the business bottom line. My department must in turn support and signpost employers to the most appropriate solutions to meet their training needs and we have a range of support services and programmes to assist employers to develop their people.

I have recently launched a review of apprenticeships and youth training which will inform our future policies for these two important strands of skills provision. I will be interested in the views of all key stakeholders as we take forward this work. I want to reflect the changing nature of our economic opportunities in Northern Ireland and to ensure that our training programmes are fit for purpose for the 21st century – delivering-gold standard apprenticeship programmes.