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13 January 2014

Apprenticeship reform has potential to lead students to

Reference number: FSB PR NI 2014 03

FOLLOWING Monday's announcement of a Review of Apprenticeships, FSB Northern Ireland has urged the NI Executive to ensure that future reforms are designed and implemented carefully, in order to realise the strong opportunity for apprenticeships locally, to regain the high reputation they held in the past.

Speaking after Monday''s launch of the consultation, by Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry, the FSB has welcomed the inclusion of plans for direct funding coupled with a higher standard of apprenticeships, as being highly beneficial to both businesses and students.

Representing 7,000 small businesses in Northern Ireland, the FSB has been concerned with the supply of apprenticeships, after their 2013 member survey results highlighted that over 70% of small businesses questioned had never employed an apprentice and one third of members consider apprenticeships to be irrelevant to their business.

Wilfred Mitchell OBE, FSB NI Policy Chair commented: "The FSB welcomes the drive by the Department to improve the quality of apprenticeships and broaden their appeal to smaller firms, which should lead to an increase in their effectiveness for the typical businesses of Northern Ireland. This commitment will enable young people seriously to consider apprenticeships as a career route which will lead them to the top of their chosen fields in business."

Announcing the consultation launch, the Minister further referenced the intention, within the document, to consider direct employer funding, similar to the model utilising the route of Her Majesty''s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) outlined by the Chancellor George Osborne, during his Autumn Statement.

Referring to this, Mr Mitchell continued: "The FSB welcomes the principle of government funding employers directly for providing apprenticeships, however, such reform requires a smooth transition and we would urge the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that small businesses are engaged within the process.

"To ensure that participation amongst small businesses increases, the Executive must consider measures which do not increase their costs, yet improve the benefits and the attractiveness. This, coupled with easily accessed advice, and payment timings which coincide with Government contributions, could transform apprenticeships"

He concluded: "We value the opportunity to contribute to this process, both as a member of the Department''s Expert Panel on Apprenticeships, as well as by engaging with the Employment and Learning Committee. We will be providing a detailed response within the 12 week consultation period."