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Alarm bells as dropout rate for NI apprentices hits new high

One in three students quits on-the-job training programme without gaining a qualification

By Rebecca Black

There is growing concern that one in three apprentices in Northern Ireland leaves without gaining a qualification.

Around 34% of students in apprenticeships dropped out in 2015/16 - 1,410 out of the total of 4,130.

The number is rising year on year, from 32% in 2014/15 and 29% in 2013/14.

The figures emerged following an Assembly question from Ulster Unionist MLA Sandra Overend.

The response also revealed that slightly more females than males left their apprenticeships early.

In 2015/16 some 588 of the 1,669 women (35%) who started apprenticeships dropped out.

"It is a real concern that the percentage of students leaving their apprenticeships before gaining a targeted qualification has been rising over the last number of years," Ms Overend told the Belfast Telegraph.

"There is also a slightly larger rise in the percentage of women leaving their apprenticeships before gaining a targeted qualification. This is particularly concerning as there are less women than men entering apprenticeships in the first place and a parallel drop in the numbers taking up an apprenticeship overall."

Ms Overend described apprenticeships as "vital to the growth of the economy and to a variety of sectors".

The MLA called on Economy Minister Simon Hamilton to address the matter urgently.

"This is just one of a number of issues that is not receiving the attention it should in the Department of the Economy," Ms Overend said.

"And, unfortunately, as a result we do not know the reasons for these alarming figures.

"Ultimately, what is needed is a Department for the Economy that is fit for purpose and a minister who is able to investigate and make proposals on matters of importance to the local economy, rather than firefighting scandals and debacles like RHI (Renewable Heating Incentive)."

The Department for the Economy said: "The minister is committed to working with employers to ensure apprenticeships and skills programmes can continue to grow to help participants expand their skills base and progress in their chosen career.

"ApprenticeshipsNI is demand-led training provision with employers recruiting and retaining apprentices in line with business needs, and the number of apprentices gaining targeted qualifications is approximately 70% in both genders.

"Securing our Success: The NI Strategy on Apprenticeships contains a commitment that apprenticeships will include a range of measures to support the participation by both genders across occupations."

The department's apprenticeships programme offers training across a wide range of disciplines to young people aged 16 and over.

Apprentices on the programme usually work with an employer for four days a week and with the training supplier one day a week.

The types of apprenticeships available include sectors ranging from computer science, motor vehicle maintenance, mechanical engineering, retail, construction and accountancy.

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