Belfast Telegraph

Ray of hope for Ballymena with new Skill Exchange

By Clare Weir

A new 'jobs recycling' initiative, the first of its kind in the UK, has been launched in Ballymena.

The town - still reeling after hundreds of job losses at the Patton construction group - has been chosen to host the first Skill Exchange Hub, funded by employers that include Michelin, Wrightbus, JTI, Moy Park, Dunbia and Northern Regional College.

Their financial input means that smaller firms and micro-businesses will be able to avail of the online service for free.

Skill Exchange UK is an independent, not for profit, organisation which facilitates placements for under-used staff into other firms that can benefit from the 'loan' of skilled staff at low cost.

Likening the initiative to a football loan scheme, the group's chief executive, Phil Flaxton said that Ballymena seemed like a natural home for the first hub.

He said: "The idea is that businesses set up profiles on our website and share their expertise. If you're looking for an engineer or an accounts clerk and another business has that person, skills can be shared.

"We met with North Antrim MP Ian Paisley in Parliament in August and after speaking with him and the businesses in the area we knew that Ballymena 'got it'. There is a good spread of large multinationals, big manufacturing and industrial firms, agri-food businesses, major exporters and small to medium enterprises in the area and it is a perfect place to launch the UK-wide project.

"We hope to have 100 hubs across the UK by the end of 2015 and we are already in talks with businesses in Londonderry, Craigavon and Belfast about setting up more hubs in Northern Ireland."

Mr Paisley said that the initiative would help stimulate the wider economy.

"After the bad news of recent weeks, Ballymena is back in the news for the right reasons," he said.

This has been privately funded by some of our major employers so that small businesses will not have to pay to use the service and it will allow the employees of smaller businesses to upskill.

The Ballymena hub is accessible via www.skillexchangeuk.org/ballymena.

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