Apprenticeships here 'could be the envy of the world'
Northern Ireland has the opportunity to build a world-class vocational system, instead of looking enviously at those in countries like Germany and the Far East.
That's the view of business organisation the CBI following news that Department of Employment and Learning minister Stephen Farry has launched a blueprint for the future of apprenticeships.
"Countries that have historically placed a greater value on vocational education, such as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, report much lower levels of youth unemployment than the UK," Kirsty McManus, CBI NI assistant director, said.
"This is reflected in the take-up of vocational options in upper secondary education."
She said in Germany, more than half choose vocational routes. In Austria and the Netherlands, the figure is even higher, at 67% and 71% respectively. But in the UK it is just 32%. "Apprenticeships are vital to raising skill levels in our economy, and supporting people into sustainable careers," Ms McManus said.
The 32 proposals put forward by Mr Farry include ensuring apprenticeships start at professional and technical level 3, equivalent to A Level, or higher, last a minimum two years and progress to Level 8, equivalent to a degree.
He also proposes a range of incentives to support employers.
The Federation of Small Business welcome the proposals but warned against adding to the burden of its members.
"To ensure that participation amongst small businesses increases, the Executive must consider measures which do not increase their costs, yet improve the benefits and the attractiveness," Wilfred Mitchell OBE, FSB NI Policy Chair said.
Feedback received from the proposals will be published in "early summer" 2014.
"The proposals will ensure that apprenticeships will be held in equally high esteem as the higher education pathway. In essence, quality, breadth, progression and portability will form the blue print of Northern Ireland's apprenticeships of the future, with apprentices commanding commensurate salaries upon completion."