Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

50 days gone and already we have 84 apprentices

Jobs boost: Invest NI’s Tracey Meharg, Minister for Employment and Learning Stephen Farry and Belfast Telegraph business reporter Margaret Canning

The Belfast Telegraph’s ‘100 jobs in 100 days’ campaign to encourage companies to take on apprentices reaches its half-way point today.

And on day 50 of the initiative, we are well ahead of target as 18 businesses have pledged to take on 84 apprentices.

The campaign also received a welcome boost today with words of support from Northern Ireland business figure Margaret Mountford. Lord Alan Sugar’s former side-kick on BBC programme The Apprentice said that it is vital to encourage apprenticeship.

Participants who have signed up to the campaign so far range from businesses which have traditionally taken on apprentices, such as plumbers and hairdressers, to firms in emerging sectors like IT.

Some have said our campaign has led them to consider reviving apprentice programmes neglected in the economic downturn because they fear their trade could become starved of future talent if they do not invest in their workforces now.

Yesterday, the Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry and Tracy Meharg, Invest NI executive director of business solutions, who has responsibility for the agency’s Jobs Funds, helped us mark the half-way point at Stormont.

We reached the mid-way point as Ms Mountford (right), who is from Holywood, Co Down, took a break from filming a documentary in Belfast yesterday to give 100 jobs in 100 days the thumbs-up.

“Why stop at 100?” she asked.

Ms Mountford was a corporate lawyer in London — but after a quarter of a century in law, went to appear with one-time client and Amstrad boss Lord Sugar on the first five series of BBC business reality show The Apprentice.

As Lord Sugar’s adviser and an onlooker in the tasks given to contestants, she became known for her withering comments and quizzical eyebrow-raising. She left to complete a doctorate in papryology but returned to take part in interviewing the finalists in this year’s series.

The ex-Strathearn pupil said: “I think it’s very important to encourage apprenticeships. I think we have gotten completely deluded with the idea of everyone going to university — universities are fine for some people but not everybody.

“We need to get back to respect for practical qualifications and enable people to come out with technical and a practical education that they can use. That’s terribly important.

“Universities should be teaching academic subjects to academically-minded people.

“Technical colleges should be teaching technical skills to technically-minded people.”

She emphasised that companies should retain their apprentices after qualification. “There is no point in using apprentices as cheap labour,” she said.

Ms Mountford studied at Cambridge University, spending a year reading French and German before switching to law.

After graduating she obtained ‘articles’ at law firm Herbert Smith in London and stayed for 25 years.

TV fame came as a surprise. “I never watched TV when Lord Sugar asked me. I knew nothing about the world of TV. But I’m grateful to the Apprentice for enabling me to do so much.”

She recently visited the office set up for litigation support work by Herbert Smith in Belfast last year.

Background

The Belfast Telegraph's ‘100 jobs in 100 days’ campaign aims to create at least 100 apprenticeships. Companies can sign up and promise to create new apprentice posts, or they can pledge support to continue or expand existing apprenticeship schemes this year.

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