Last year the Belfast Telegraph ran a very successful campaign to encourage local companies to sign up at least 100 new apprentices within 100 days.
The campaign rightly identified the importance of apprenticeships to our economy. They were a key factor in making Northern Ireland a major industrial powerhouse in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There are many examples of successful business leaders today who started out as apprentices.
Over the past decade, government and business have invested heavily in apprenticeships and other training for our young people. Apprenticeship programmes have been successful in supporting the economy and giving thousands of young people the skills to do the job well and develop successful careers.
Today, once again, skills are a major driver in our economy. In order to remain internationally competitive, we have to invest in skills across a broad front. We must also recognise that the nature of our economy is changing, with companies developing new products and services, and with that the nature of jobs and employment is evolving.
It is therefore timely that we review the apprenticeships and youth training in Northern Ireland. We must invest in what are the right skills for our economy. I am committed to making this a major priority for my department over the coming months.
Apprenticeships bring the advantage of on-the-job training that can be much more tailored to the particular needs of employers. For individuals they provide relevant skills and recognised qualifications, and in doing so increase their prospects of sustainable employment.
I am also committed to investing in youth training. Not every person is ready to be an apprentice nor does every job require the rigour of an apprenticeship framework. But it is important to give every young person a stake in society through a training guarantee.
This is an exciting moment for Northern Ireland, and we have the opportunity to create a gold standard apprenticeship and youth training system.