Apprentice schemes bring in a new era for education in Northern Ireland
Higher-level apprenticeships in accountancy and life sciences have been launched, ushering in a new era of alternative access to professions in Northern Ireland.
Employment Minister Dr Stephen Farry yesterday launched the two schemes for school-leavers which will enable them to become educated to degree level while bypassing university.
The two-year pilot was hailed by the CBI as "exactly the type of development" required in Northern Ireland.
It follows the Belfast Telegraph's 50 Jobs in 50 Days campaign for the creation of apprenticeships earlier this year, which was lauded by HRH the Duke of York.
Students who complete their courses will achieve either an Accounting Technicians Ireland Level 5 diploma or a foundation degree in industrial, chemical and life sciences.
The apprenticeships will be offered by Belfast Metropolitan College and Southern Regional College (SRC) and are supported by Norbrook Laboratories in Newry, Belfast accountancy firm Goldblatt McGuigan and others.
Norbrook has been praised for upholding the company's links with further education, forged by its late founder Lord Ballyedmond, who died in a helicopter crash earlier this year.
Nigel Smyth, regional director of the CBI in Northern Ireland, said the new scheme was "exactly the kind of positive development that businesses wish to see".
"These pilots form part of a new employer-led approach which will be much more aligned to our medium to long-term economic needs.
"By promoting these higher level apprenticeships, the minister is responding directly to the calls of industry while providing excellent career pathways for individuals.
"We look forward to the pilots becoming part of a wider reform programme in the autumn of 2016," he said.
The minister said: "The new model for apprenticeships will put employers in the driving seat by aligning with their needs in meeting the growing demand for higher level skills as we look to grow our local economy."
Goldblatt McGuigan said it had previously taken on graduates on the traditional path to accountancy.
Staff and audit partner Kay Collins said: "We take trainees on every year the traditional way and recruit graduates ourselves but this is a new way of doing that.
"We find a lot of people don't want to go down the university route, with one reason being cost, and there is a route they want to go down and know what they want to do," she said.
Brian Doran, chief executive of SRC, said it was "proud to be at the forefront of the development of these new and exciting apprenticeships" in key growth sectors in Northern Ireland.
"The college together with Belfast Met, Accounting Technicians Ireland, Chartered Accountants Ireland and many leading accountancy employers has led the development of the first higher apprenticeship in finance and accounting in Northern Ireland.
"This apprenticeship provides school leavers with the opportunity to gain employment whilst working towards professional qualifications through to chartered accountancy status."
Paying tribute to the strong ties fostered in recent years between the college and Norbrook, Mr Doran added: "Norbrook is providing school leavers with the opportunity to work with a world leading pharmaceutical company whilst achieving higher level qualifications through to degree level.
"This development demonstrates the college's commitment to working with local business and industry to ensure that our curriculum offer is both relevant and meaningful to support the future growth and expansion of local companies."
Marie-Thérèse McGivern, principal and chief executive of Belfast Met, said it was playing "an important role in providing the talent to fill future jobs in Northern Ireland by supporting students into employment, better employment or a route towards employment".