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This conference focused on next steps for skills and apprenticeships in Northern Ireland.
Delegates examined progress on and priorities going forward for the Skills Strategy for Northern Ireland launched by the Department for the Economy in 2022, which sets out a strategic framework for the skills system up to 2030.
Key areas for discussion included the aims outlined in the strategy, as well as its potential benefits and how they could be achieved:
- addressing skills imbalances and shortages
- increasing engagement with and access to apprenticeships and other qualifications
- fostering a culture of lifelong learning in Northern Ireland
The conference was also a timely opportunity to consider recent developments and initiatives in Northern Ireland, including the introduction of All Age Apprenticeships and Assured Skills Academies, and the remit of the new Northern Ireland Skills Council.
Further sessions included case studies for skills development, in areas including the digital, construction, creative, green, and health and life sciences sectors.
We are pleased to have been able to include keynote contributions from Graeme Wilkinson, Director of Skills, Department for the Economy; Kathryn McCamley, Deputy Director, Apprenticeships, Careers and Vocational Education Division, Department for the Economy; John Kennedy, Assistant Chief Inspector, Further Education, Training and Youth Directorate, Education and Training Inspectorate; and John D’Arcy, Director, The Open University in Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Overall, the agenda included discussion on:
- taking the Skills Strategy forward: identifying investment priorities - fostering inclusive economic growth through skills development - strengthening governance of skills policies in NI
- Labour Market Partnerships: assessing progress - potential to address skills shortages - increasing the supply of skilled local workers
- skills development, upskilling and re-skilling:
- assessing the progress of Assured Skills Academies in Northern Ireland
- developing skills clusters - partnerships between industry, FE training providers and HEIs
- strengthening the overseas talent pipeline
- exploring options for a lifetime guarantee of access to level 2 qualifications
- capitalising on Northern Ireland’s reputation for tertiary education
- addressing shortages: next steps for key industries of concern such as the construction, digital, and health sectors - increasing the number of women in STEM
- tackling inequalities: addressing education underachievement and inequalities in access to FE - skills development as a measure to address social deprivation
- apprenticeships: addressing barriers to apprenticeships for all ages - widening access - increasing appeal - supporting the apprenticeship workforce - priorities for public sector apprenticeships
- priority growth areas for investment: developing key future skills including in digital, green, and manufacturing sectors, and in health and life sciences - options for innovation clusters in Northern Ireland
- lifelong learning: promoting re-training and upskilling for all ages - developing access to adult learning
The conference was an opportunity for stakeholders to consider the issues alongside key policy officials who attended from DAERA; DBT; Department for Communities; DfE; Department for the Economy; Department for Employment and Learning; Department of Education; Department of Finance; Department of Further & Higher Education, ROI; Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform; Northern Ireland Audit Office; and the North South Ministerial Council Joint Secretariat.