The launch of the Belfast Telegraph's campaign this week is both welcome and timely. It should be set in the context of a major consultation the Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr Stephen Farry MLA, is currently overseeing in terms of a review of apprenticeships and the apprenticeship model in Northern Ireland.
Through an expert panel, and after significant consultation with our membership, we advocated a range of targeted, yet fundamental, changes to current structures, as a means to put in place a vocational apprentice-led system that is world class.
Apprenticeships are vital to raising skill levels in our economy, and supporting people into sustainable careers. Top-quality training is the key to bridging the critical skills gaps in IT, engineering and agri-food which fuel growth and keep Northern Ireland globally competitive.
Chief among the changes we have proposed – and we strongly welcome the inclusion of many of these proposals within the consultation – is the creation of a UCAS-style system for apprenticeships that would better inform young people of the range of opportunities before them. That, accompanied by putting higher level apprenticeships on the same level 8 qualification footing as a doctorate, would go a long way to dispelling the myth that an apprenticeship is a less valuable qualification.
We also believe that apprenticeships should be employer-led – putting industry in the driving seat as to their content, duration and assessment.
The themes of both this consultation and the Belfast Telegraph's campaign are reinforced by a recent CBI report on business-education links – an evaluation of education and employer partnerships in Northern Ireland.
That report reinforced the critical need for careers advice to be better aligned with future economic need and trends and that the promotion of non-academic routes such as apprenticeships is critical to our pathway to sustained growth and prosperity.