ENCOURAGING apprenticeships in growth areas like pharmaceuticals and life sciences will help ensure the success of the Northern Ireland economy, it has been claimed.
Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry spoke at the launch of the first ever apprenticeship scheme at veterinary pharmaceutical company Norbrook Laboratories.
Mr Farry told the Belfast Telegraph that improving the take-up of apprenticeships was an important priority for his department.
"Across Northern Ireland we are taking 6% or 7% of young people going into apprenticeships and we would like to see a significant rise in that," the minister said.
"We would like to see what kind of buy-in we have from employers, but we would certainly like to double that... by 2020, if not sooner."
Newry-based Norbrook employs 1,700 people and is now looking for 20 trainee laboratory and science technicians who will also study their discipline at Southern Regional College for part of the week.
Lord Ballyedmond, chairman of Norbrook Laboratories, said: "The apprenticeship programme developed in partnership with the Southern Regional College provides a significant opportunity for young people to embark on an exciting career within the pharmaceutical industry."
He said the opportunities demonstrated the company's "long-term commitment to the young people of the greater Newry area".
"I am delighted that Norbrook Laboratories is in a position to make such a significant contribution to reduce youth unemployment."
Mr Farry praised Norbrook for giving young people a chance to get jobs in the pharmaceutical industry. He added: "My department is currently carrying out a review of the apprenticeship and youth training programmes and my aim is to build upon and enhance existing strong provision, ensuring that Northern Ireland has a system of apprenticeship and youth training that is the 'gold standard'.
"The development of apprenticeships in priority skills areas such as pharmaceutical and life sciences is vital for the future success of the Northern Ireland economy."
Data from the Department of Finance and Personnel published earlier this year showed chemicals and pharmaceutical products to be one of the main growth areas of the economy since 2007, with output in the sector up 26.8% between the second quarter of 2007 and the third quarter of 2012.
Norbrook announced in June that it would be taking on another 400 new staff over the next two years.