Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Apprenticeships providing a ray of light amid gloom of ongoing unrest

It now seems like a long, long time since the Belfast Telegraph launched its 100 jobs in 100 days campaign in May. Perhaps they were more simple times when the toughest issues facing the Northern Ireland economy were rising youth unemployment and the need for a shot in the arm, such as lower corporation tax, to make us more competitive.

We still have those problems, but they are now compounded by the still-unknown economic cost of the flag protests.

But life goes on and positive announcements are still flowing from government departments.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson's introduction of project bank accounts for construction contracts worth over £1m awarded by the Central Procurement Directorate has been largely welcomed in the industry, though with some reservations.

And news from Employment and Learning of a campaign to promote apprenticeships is significant. Our campaign resulted in 26 businesses pledging to take on 108 apprentices. The Belfast Telegraph can't claim credit for DEL's emphasis on apprenticeships but we can feel satisfaction that our own mission was fulfilled.

The apprenticeship model takes a young person who does not want to go to university and gives them an introduction to a trade, as well as a steady wage and prospects for the future. The range of trades and even professions which are amenable to the model has broadened to include IT - though understandably, it may take time for areas which have traditionally admitted only graduates to get used to the idea of embracing those whose highest qualification is A-levels.

Kainos is one such IT firm. It yesterday pledged its support to DEL's apprenticeship advertising campaign. Paul Hamill from Kainos said apprenticeships proved a success for its business, making it "more effective, competent and competitive by addressing our skills gaps".

The absence of skills, aspiration and hope in some loyalist communities are in the complex mix of factors which have led to repeated riots in east Belfast.

Here's hoping an emphasis on apprenticeships could one day lead to hope for a good economic future spreading to some of those communities.

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