Belfast Telegraph

Why we must boost our greatest asset

Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry has hailed the Investors in People workforce initiative

Everyone knows we are experiencing a challenging time in terms of keeping businesses viable and competitive. However, I am convinced that this is the time to raise the skills levels of the workforce so that we are well prepared for the opportunities ahead.

It is only by investing in our most important asset - our people - that we can ensure that the Northern Ireland of the future can compete economically on a global scale.

The Belfast Telegraph Business Awards recognise this and aim to highlight examples of best practice and reward the excellent work that is being done by our companies and the people who work there.

Tell us about Investors in People:

Many organisations are already investing in training and business improvement as witnessed by those in my department's Investors in People (IiP) Centre.

IiP is a business improvement framework designed to help employers improve performance by linking people development and skills acquisition to the specific aims and objectives of their businesses, to assess and improve the performance of their employees.

At present, there are over 1,500 businesses in Northern Ireland working with the Investors in People Standard. The standard is an excellent framework for business improvement which helps organisations to meet their business objectives by enabling employers to link their business priorities with associated people issues and address any areas for improvement.

IiP provides employers with tailored assessments designed to support organisations in planning, implementing and evaluating effective strategies and is relevant for organisations of all sizes and sectors.

Many employers have reaped the business rewards from IiP including increased profit, improved productivity, improved staff retention, decreased staff absenteeism and reduced wastage.

The approach to IiP delivery has recently changed to a much more flexible and tailored approach to meet individual business needs and with no requirement for a formal commitment the focus is on meeting those business needs using the tools and diagnostics from the standard and the expertise of the IiP adviser. The framework has also been extended to provide a greater stretch and challenge for all businesses.

Who is Investors in People for?

Investors in People is available and appropriate to organisations of all sizes and from all sectors of business in Northern Ireland.

It has been 'tried and tested' and its longevity is testament to the fact that it works well for hundreds of employers in Northern Ireland. First time IiP assessments for small to medium-sized enterprises are fully subsidised by my department.

Where do you see opportunities in the year ahead?

Our people and their skills are our greatest natural resource. We have yet to develop and harness its full potential. Too many of our adult population have low-level or no skills, and too few have high-level qualifications.

We also have particularly high levels of economic inactivity. Therefore, it is clear that if Northern Ireland is to compete in the global economic arena, there must be a concerted joined-up effort to drive up skills and skills utilisation across a broad front to meet the needs of the economy.

Should the Executive do more to help local business?

The recent publication of the draft Programme for Government and the economic strategy reinforce the Executive's commitment to the local economy and highlight the critical importance of 'skills' to rebalancing and rebuilding our economy.

Northern Ireland businesses continue to operate in a challenging environment and require a high return on investment. IiP can provide solutions to real problems and tangible business benefits which are essential to ensure that Northern Ireland becomes the successful and revitalised economy that we all hope for.

The skills and capabilities of our people are the basis of Northern Ireland's long-term competitiveness.

What advice would you give to aspiring businesses?

I would encourage all small to medium-sized enterprises who are interested in developing their workforce through IiP to contact my department by visiting

Investor’s in People are sponsors of the Excellence in the Development of Management and Leadership category in the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in association with British Midland International