Belfast Telegraph

Lord Sugar needs you to help get our young people into work

TV’s top tycoon backs skills drive

By Margaret Canning

Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph launched a dynamic new campaign to create 100 apprenticeship jobs in just 100 days for young people in Northern Ireland.

Our ‘100 Jobs in 100 Days’ campaign also aims to kickstart a debate about youth unemployment and the critical role that apprenticeships play in our economy.

At 17.9%, Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the UK and the number of young people without a job here has doubled since 2008.

Based on 2011 figures, less than 3% of our 16 to 24-year-olds are in apprenticeships, compared to 6% in England.

Even the UK’s figure pales into insignificance compared to Switzerland, where two-thirds of young people enter apprenticeships.

Lord Sugar, Amstrad founder and star of BBC reality show The Apprentice, has already pledged support for the Belfast Telegraph’s campaign, as have a range of Northern Ireland and UK-wide companies.

The Amstrad founder said: “Young people need choices that motivate them — not everyone who leaves school at 16 has the drive to succeed that I did. The fact is that some people learn better on the job or by seeing how their learning applies to the real world — that’s why I’m backing apprenticeships.

“People who do apprenticeships become ambitious. They’re ‘doers’, the kind of people who will make things happen. These are the qualities I look for in people.

“Success is all about finding people like this — people who will help make any business grow, especially in times like these.

“It’s important that employers take apprenticeships seriously — apprentices make things happen and can help a business to grow and thrive.”

There are over 11,000 apprentices aged 16 and over currently in training in Northern Ireland learning the valuable skills — from IT to hairdressing and refrigeration — that will equip them for a meaningful working life.

But it's hoped that more firms can get involved and boost the numbers of young people taking this practical and mutually beneficial route into working life.

Our goal in this campaign, which is being run with the support of the Department for Employment and Learning, is to galvanise companies into creating apprenticeships, thereby creating hope and a future for a generation of young people whose life chances are being unfairly curtailed by the continued weakness in the economy, reflected in a 17.9% unemployment rate for 18 to 24-year-olds.

Already some of Northern Ireland's top companies have endorsed our campaign, such as Northgate Managed Services and Donnelly Group.

Small businesses — the backbone of the economy — have also spoken of how they have benefited from having apprentices.

Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry welcomed our initiative. “Apprenticeships are right at the heart of the kind of economy we want to build: one where young people have the chance to learn skills the economy needs, where we have a highly-skilled workforce and where we are providing the goods and services the world wants to buy.”

As well as helping young people, we hope the creation of more apprenticeships will reinvigorate Northern Ireland’s businesses.

So, just how does this new initiative work?

  • Apprentices — who will have reached the minimum school leaving age — must be employed with a Northern Ireland-based company to work a minimum of 21 hours a week, including the time spent on ‘off-the-job' training, usually one day a week at one of Northern Ireland’s regional colleges. Apprenticeships usually take between two and four years. Wages are agreed between the apprentices and employer, but minimum wage applies. Employer incentive payments are available of between £250 and £1,500. For under-25s, DEL undertakes to pay full costs of ‘off-the-job’ training included in the ApprenticeshipsNI framework and contributes 50% of the funding for 25s and over.

Roll of Honour

The companies who have already pledged their support for our campaign

  • Kwik Fit
  • Donnelly Group
  • Northgate Managed Services
  • Mourne Meats
  • Belfast Telegraph/Independent News & Media

How do I join 100 jobs in 100 days campaign?

  • If you are a business owner or chief executive interested in bolstering our young people's life choices by creating a new apprenticeship, please email and we will let readers know of your interest. Also, to inquire about the Government-funded ApprenticeshipsNI programme visit or call 0800 0854 573 for further information.

The website provides useful information on the process to be followed, the current contracted training suppliers, their locations and the apprenticeship frameworks they offer which are currently funded by the Department for Employment and Learning.

Margaret Canning talks to four apprentices about what they have achieved and why they have taken this route

Rhonda Baird: Team leading apprenticeship

  • Rhonda Baird, aged 36, and from Antrim, has completed an apprenticeship in team leading at Laura’s Lodge Day Nursery, where she is now officer-in-charge.

“I was working with a nursery and I just loved working with kids. They were of all different ages, which was good. I just want to keep working with kids. Watching them play and talk is great. I just love watching them grow. I studied an NVQ in team leading, which was all about managing people and learning to work as a team. We learned about different aspects of team leading.”

William Mein: Welding apprenticeship

  • Willliam Mein, aged 25, is from Londonderry and is completing an apprenticeship at Harland and Wolff.

“I found out about the apprenticeship on the internet and applied through the Engineering Training Council. Up until then I had been working in an off-licence. I had left school with nine GCSEs and two A-levels. Harland and Wolff interviewed me for the job and I got it. I have been here for three years. The apprenticeship is good and I’m always doing something different. We’ve been talking about doing a HNC, then maybe management after that.”

Peter Kane: IT apprenticeship

  • Peter Kane, aged 23, and from Rathcoole, Co Antrim, has completed an IT apprenticeship at Northgate Managed Services and is now in a full-time role in the company.

“I worked as a bricklayer for six years in construction in Northern Ireland but that took a major hit with the economy so I had to really look at a different career. I saw a job for an apprentice in IT at Northgate on and I thought that was the way to go. I was successful and haven’t looked back since. IT definitely suits me. I wish I could have got into it after school.”

Caolan Dolan: Engineering apprenticeship

  • Caolan Dolan (25), from Castlederg in Co Tyrone, started his engineering apprenticeship with BT last October.

“I spent a couple of weeks in training school in Antrim. After I finished the first month of training, I went out to work with my mentor and came across a road accident. A car was hit by a lorry and one of our cabinets was damaged. We had to repair the cabinet and get the 100 customers’ phones back. That was my first week out and it gave me a good experience of what the job was like and what was expected.”

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