Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

New grant scheme is set to upskill workers

A new scheme to protect jobs and upskill workers through grants made to companies is to be rolled out in Northern Ireland this month.

With unemployment rising, the Department for Employment and Learning has joined forces with Invest NI and the Department of Enterprise to tackle the problem.

The programme aims to allow employers to retain as many of their workers as possible.

Employment Minister Sir Reg Empey said the aim was to keep as many people in work, particularly those that are placed in short time working:

He said: “We would hope to encourage companies through grants that we would make, to keep as many of those on short time working in employment as possible, so that they can be up-skilled during this recession.”

He said the grants were an investment in staff and it would not be a case of handing over a sum of money to companies to help them meet their bills.

Instead, funding would be for specific purposes and targeted predominantly at manufacturing, particularly where there was export and tradable services potential.

The Minister said that the grants were focused on upskilling the workforce for the upturn.

He added: “It’s not simply a matter of subsidising wages, we would only be making payments for specific purposes of upskilling the individual worker.”

Apprenticeships will also be provided under the new scheme either onsite or offsite if necessary to agreed training levels where the scheme would be approved in advance.

Sir Reg said that as resources were finite, any proposal would have to be reviewed after six months.

He added: “We can’t enter into open-ended schemes whereby we would be paying sums of money indefinitely.”

The Minister acknowledged that the cycle of unemployment was difficult to break.

He said: “If people are unemployed for six months or more, they’re only 50% likely to get back into work.

“And if they are a year or more, only 25% are likely to get back into work. So when people get unemployed, it’s harder and harder and harder to get them re-employed as time goes on.”

bustel@belfasttelegraph.co.uk