BUSINESSES are to be given access to thousands of free or subsidised training courses to help them survive the economic downturn.
The Rapid Response Northern Ireland programme has been launched by the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) in conjunction with the province's six further education colleges.
It is set to give companies access to over 6,000 expert staff training courses and modern facilities at 50 college locations across all of Northern Ireland.
The initiative is being spearheaded by South Eastern Regional College (SERC) and will provide services that are free or heavily subsidised, including business audits, training and advice.
Trainers and advisors will also work with individuals who have been re-deployed to new jobs within a business and require up-skilling and re-skilling.
Staff facing redundancy will be offered coaching in job search skills and training needs.
According to the latest figures, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) was notified of 379 redundancies last month. However, the figures do not include companies who have made less than 20 redundancies.
Gary Ritchie, programme manager said: "This programme is designed to help businesses with the difficult decisions they face.
"We have already seen over 5,000 redundancies this year in Northern Ireland and it is likely that there will be more.
"Businesses do not have to do it on their own.
"The expertise available in the six colleges spans across many industries and reall should be used by businesses."
Acting Permanent Secretary for DEL, Catherine Bell, said: "The further education sector plays a vital role in ensuring the continued success of Northern Ireland's economy.
"Colleges are already dealing with many local businesses, delivering training and advice to thousands of individuals.
"The introduction of Rapid Response NI will help to ensure the delivery of a 'seamless' service for local companies."
Rapid Response NI has already engaged with businesses from across Northern Ireland who are experiencing redundancy or the re-skilling of employees due to the recession.
If you are a business affected by the current economic downturn and would like assistance, call the RRNI hotline on 0800 1422855.