The new Economy Minister Paul Frew has made a welcome start in efforts to fill the gap for people with basic training needs to get jobs in a large range of occupations.
Young people, aged 16 and over, have been invited to seek a training place on completely redesigned arrangements to be offered in one of the six further education colleges.
This is an overdue recognition that for many years the NI education system has been either unable or unwilling to correct a major weakness in the training (or educational) places available to the up-coming generation of young people.
The Economic Policy Centre at the University of Ulster has produced evidence that NI is providing too few places for young people to obtain jobs where they can develop careers in vocational occupations first gaining a level 2 qualification and then possibly improving on that to reach higher levels.
The special budget allocation of £180m, available over the next seven years, for traineeships represents a significant extra level of spending by or through the further education colleges.
Taken as part of the training services that are based in the FE colleges, it might be argued that the new range of designated traineeships is simply a recognition of what should have been part of the continuing FE service provision.
Is the need for this supplementary budget an implicit acknowledgement that the colleges have, until now, been underfunded or have not recognised a specific responsibility?
Whilst the extra budget will be welcome, it must be seen in the context of a seven year delivery plan. When represented as an annual increase of just under £26m pa, the scale of the new intervention is less impressive.
Alternatively, the Minister claims that, over seven years, the scheme will fund 20,000 traineeships.
That will only fund an average of just under 3,000 places each year or, since each trainee will last for two years, 1,500 additional students.
When allocated across the network of six FE colleges, and across 30 different employment groups, this will be a relatively small number of extra places in vocational topics that are in demand.
In allocating 3,000 traineeship places each year, no doubt the educationalists will have considered both the minimum numbers to create viable training courses and also the availability of workshops and teaching spaces to accommodate the extra workload.
The scale of the provision for an increase in the number of trainees is welcome but it must be acknowledged to be only a modest start. If successful, the scheme may usefully be put on a larger scale.
More critically, the Minister has approved the scheme to provide opportunities for trainees to gain only a level 2 qualification.
Vocational qualifications at level 3 and above are a critical link in ensuring that some specific occupational vacancies can be filled and also that these qualifications are available in sufficient numbers to allow the development of businesses.
The scheme will need to be adapted to encourage successful trainees to extend their qualifications to higher levels, including on occasion to degree level. That must be followed by proposals to open the way to more advanced training at levels 3 to 5.
The new traineeships will be available through the colleges. Critically, success will depend on the attraction of qualified applicants.
They must have four GCSEs at grades of at least D to G, including Maths and English at grades D to E (or equivalent).
For the 16 and 17-year-old applicants this could be a life changing process that links to a successful career.
The new Minister has opened the way to a major improvement in the way in which we prepare the next generation for an economy that is more reliant on a range of well-prepared skilled people.
The range of traineeships is extensive: 39 training areas have been identified.
As would be expected it includes a wide range of skills in the traditional building and engineering areas, including vehicle specialisms.
In addition, traineeships will be available in land-based engineering, horticulture, agriculture, refrigeration, retailing, butchery and business administration.
In 2022, new traineeships will be offered in media and communications, ICT (users and telecoms), science along with a range of special courses related to food processing and presentation, health and social care, and tourism and visitor services.
Last, but not least, is a traineeship in barbering.
The FE colleges have been set a demanding agenda.