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BT set to take on over 100 graduates and apprentices in Northern Ireland

By Margaret Canning

Telecommunications giant BT has said its is employing on 100 new apprentices and graduates in Northern Ireland.

The company, which has around 5,000 staff here, said the move was part of a drive to equip young people for a changing job market and to fulfil BT's future tech requirements.

Most of the apprentice posts are in engineering, while a small number of apprentice roles and the graduate roles are in customer service, software development, fleet management and supply chain management.

The jobs will be spread across the province from Belfast to Londonderry and Enniskillen.

BT's announcement comes as the UK marks National Apprentice Week, while in his Budget today, the Chancellor is expected to announce a new educational qualification for technical skills, the T-level.

Mairead Meyer, BT managing director of networks in Northern Ireland, said the company was looking ahead to its requirements for the future when fifth generation mobile networks are the norm.

"We are also preparing for future technologies, including 5G, and so we want to recruit the very best," she said.

"Our apprenticeship roles will offer people the hands on experience they need to succeed.

"Young people today need three key skills - literacy, numeracy and tech know-how.

"BT is investing in the next generation, helping to train primary school teachers to teach computer science and recruiting large numbers of apprentices.

"This is the right thing for us to do if Northern Ireland is to remain a digital leader."

According to a report by Regeneris Consulting, BT supports around 5,440 jobs through direct employment, spending with contractors and suppliers and the spending of employees.

Last year, it took on around 80 new engineers.

The report by Regeneris Consulting said it added £470m to the Northern Ireland economy over the last year through direct and indirect employment.

Meanwhile, as part of National Apprentice Week, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is calling on a new Executive to tackle funding for apprenticeships.

A new apprenticeship levy set at 0.5% of a company's pay bill, where it is over £3m, is to be introduced next month without any clear guidelines.

ICE regional director Richard Kirk said: "The incoming Executive must immediately clarify and ensure the future funding of apprenticeships, as the levy is commencing next month with no set plan for implementation. Northern Ireland stands to lose £5m from the block grant in 2017-18 as a result of the levy, and the Executive needs to offset that loss by securing investment in apprenticeships.

"Funding apprenticeships will stimulate the economy by creating jobs for our people and meeting the demand needed to deliver our necessary infrastructure projects.

"It will also ensure that businesses affected by the apprenticeship levy will ultimately see a return benefit from their payments."

He said Northern Ireland also faced a shortage of skills in science, technology, education and maths, which could be addressed through apprenticeships with the Executive's help.

"Apprenticeships will play a vital role in ensuring we have a skilled, modern and dynamic workforce to drive our economy forward and keep Northern Ireland competitive," he added.

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