I welcome the Belfast Telegraph's initiative which supports my department's Apprenticeships NI programme. The campaign will reinforce the extensive opportunities that an apprenticeship offers to both employers and young people and I hope that this persuades more companies and individuals to reap those benefits.
A renewed and reformed system of apprenticeships has the potential to radically reform and improve the training and skills. This is a top priority for me as we seek to build on the talents and skills of our people and grow the economy.
In January, I announced the findings of a review of apprenticeships as a first step to delivering this ambition.
The report, currently open for consultation until April 7, articulates a blueprint for Northern Ireland's future apprenticeship programme: a model driven by strategic partnership; puts employers at its very heart; matches better supply with demand; affords opportunities in a much wider range of occupations and offers a flexible progression pathway across vocational and professional education and training.
We want to expand apprenticeships into the new, growth sectors in our economy and to extend the system to higher skill levels. Fundamental of all to the proposals is the key role employers will play.
There is a clear need to increase our skills as we seek to compete in the global marketplace, and apprenticeships will play a major role. The proposals will ensure that apprenticeships will be held in equally high esteem as the higher education pathway, and will be seen as a direct route into a range of occupations and sectors previously accessible through traditional higher education.
We have been working with employers already to pilot apprenticeships at higher levels in key sectors such as ICT, engineering and financial services.
I call on employers, educational institutions, learners and other key stakeholders to provide their feedback during this consultation period.
Stakeholders' views will inform our final policy for apprenticeships, which will be published in the early summer.