Policy Forum for Northern Ireland

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7951044809 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7538736244.
For delegates already booked on, we will send you the online joining instructions (including links, event numbers and passwords) five working days before your conference. If you cannot find these in your inbox please email delegate.relations@forumsupport.co.uk

Next steps for skills and apprenticeships in Northern Ireland

Morning, Thursday, 8th October 2020

Online Conference

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference will discuss the future of skills and apprenticeships in Northern Ireland.

It takes place with the ongoing development of a new skills strategy for Northern Ireland, to replace the existing strategy which concludes in 2020.

The discussion at a glance:

  • key priorities for the new skills strategy
  • immigration policy and the impact of Brexit
  • meeting the future skills needs of the Northern Ireland economy
  • the particular role of apprenticeships in helping meet NI’s skills needs
  • the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on apprenticeships and skills development and those working in this area, including:
    • what can be learned - taking forward the experience of the way that providers have adapted to the delivery of skills and training
    • further support - what may be needed to accommodate the impact on stakeholders of the economic fallout of the crisis, as well as changes to skills demands and the working environment

A scan of relevant developments:

  • a new skills strategy for Northern Ireland - being developed of to replace the Success through Skills - Transforming Futures, which concludes in 2020
  • Investing in Skills is crucial to future growth - highlighted by the Minister for the Economy as an immediate policy priority for economic recovery in light of the impact of COVID-19, including:
    • securing a sustainable, long-term investment package to develop a world class skills system, including 2,000 online training places
    • enhancing the Skills Focus programme to help businesses upskill furloughed staff
    • setting up an Advisory and Oversight group to allow safe resumption of onsite training at FE colleges and other providers
  • Apprentice Recovery Package - the announcement of £14.3 million from the Department for the Economy to replace the UK wide Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, including:
    • Employers to be offered £3,700 for every apprentice brought back from furlough and retained until the completion of their apprenticeship
    • £3,000 for every new apprenticeship opportunity created
  • Murphy announces funding for apprenticeships, education and social enterprises - allocation of £23.1m from the Northern Ireland Executive to address issues brought about by COVID-19, including
    • £17.2m to encourage employers to retain and recruit apprentices
    • £5.5m to support the safe resumption of learning in further education colleges
  • OECD Skills Strategy Northern Ireland - recently published and recommending:
    • Northern Ireland reduce its skills imbalances through improving careers guidance and reforming funding models
    • a culture of lifelong learning is created and the governance of skills policies is strengthened
  • UK points-based immigration system - details recently published by the UK government

The discussion in detail:

The new skills strategy

  • key priorities and goals
  • skills requirements - where are the most significant gaps
  • meeting the needs of the NI economy into the future  - options for further policy interventions to develop education, apprenticeships and a skilled workforce

Immigration policy and the impact of Brexit

  • potential impact - of the UK government’s proposed immigration framework on organisations in Northern Ireland and attracting talent from overseas, and on the overall skills picture in NI
  • a local approach? - examining the potential for developing regional immigration policies to benefit the Northern Ireland economy
  • UK transition - how they are likely to affect availability of skills in individual sectors and in the economy as a whole

Meeting the future skills needs of the Northern Ireland economy

  • key future skills requirements - looking at the NI economy as a whole, as well as individual sectors, and the way forward for developing a workforce that is skilled to match those requirements
  • new technologies and automation - the impact on the composition of the workforce and the consequences of this for the NI skills and training landscape
  • education - what will be required going forward from post-primary, further and higher education for skills development and supporting and sustaining the talent pipeline
  • retraining and up-skilling the existing workforce - priorities including developing clear career pathways and the role for in-work training and skills development programmes
  • sector-specific skills strategies - priorities, and best practice for development and implementation

Apprenticeships and their particular role in meeting Northern Ireland’s skills needs

  • standards and delivery - next steps for developing strong standards and excellence in apprenticeship programmes and ensuring that they deliver applicable and transferable qualifications and skills
  • uptake - the way forward for achieving parity of esteem for apprenticeships as a path towards a future career and how best to increase apprenticeship uptake in NI
  • the apprenticeship levy - addressing concerns around its functioning in NI, including whether funding resulting from the levy should be ring-fenced for apprenticeship programme delivery.

The agenda:

  • Key priorities for upskilling and training in Northern Ireland
  • Developing the framework for Northern Ireland’s future skills system
  • Meeting Northern Ireland’s skill needs - priorities for businesses and sectors, funding, and delivering for City and Growth Deals
  • Developing a skilled workforce - effective pathways, parity of esteem, and up-skilling
  • Raising quality in apprenticeships - assessment, qualifications and promoting excellence

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the Department for Communities; the Department for the Economy; the Department for Education; the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs; CAFRE; the Department of Finance; BDUK (Building Digital UK); Matrix; NICS; the Strategic Investment Board; The Education and Training Inspectorate and the Northern Ireland Office. Also due to attend are representatives from ABP UK; Anglia Ruskin University; Barnardo's (NI); Belfast City Council; Belfast HSC Trust; Belfast Met College; Belfast Met Further Education College; Belfast Metropolitan College; Business in the Community Northern Ireland; CAFRE; Clanrye Group; Education Authority; ETT; GEMS NI; JMK Solicitors; Larne High School; Mid and East Antrim Borough Council; NI Social Care Council; OECD; Open College Network NI; Orchardville Society; South Eastern Regional College; Southern Health and Social Care Trust; South West College; The Cedar Foundation; Think People; Ulster University; Workforce Training Services and Wrightbus.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speakers

Andrew Bell

Head, National Skills Strategy Projects, OECD

Graeme Wilkinson

Director of Skills, Department for the Economy NI

Jim Wilkinson

Director of Youth Policy, Department for the Economy NI

Gareth Hetherington

Director, Ulster University Economic Policy Centre


Dr Caoimhe Archibald MLA

Chair, Committee for the Economy


Sinead O’Regan

Economic Development Manager, Employability and Skills, Belfast City Council

Peter O’Reilly

Chief Executive, Transport Training Services

Elizabeth Crowley

Senior Skills Policy Advisor, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

Monica McNally

Apprentice Civil Engineer, Atkins Global

Barry Neilson

Chief Executive, CITB NI

John Healy

Vice President and Managing Director, Allstate Northern Ireland

Louise Warde Hunter

Principal and Chief Executive, Belfast Metropolitan College

Richard Kirk

CEO and Founder, Workplus

Philip McNally

Corporate Immigration and Employment, KPMG Ireland

Terry Fennell

Chief Executive, FDQ

Leo Murphy

Principal and Chief Executive, North West Regional College

Joanne Lennox

Training and Development Manager, Farrans