Northern Ireland businesses can boost their competitiveness and unlock their full potential by linking with local Further Education (FE) colleges.

All six FE colleges hosted representatives from a diverse range of business sectors at a special event in Allstate’s Belfast premises, with the clear message – Let’s Do Business.

The Let’s Do Business initiative, supported by the Department for the Economy, offers local companies the ability to engage their local FE college to help recruit talented people, reskill and upskill their existing staff or to access expertise in innovation and research.

Speaking after he addressed attendees at the event, Permanent Secretary at the Department for the Economy Noel Lavery highlighted the benefits available for local business: “The network of Further Education colleges in Northern Ireland contains a deep well of talent that can be a hugely valuable resource for local businesses. With the support of the Department, the FE colleges offer an opportunity for direct collaboration that can result in companies recruiting and training the skilled people they need in order to compete and grow.

“Whether it be in IT, hospitality, engineering, retail, a start-up or a well-established venture, every type of business can benefit and gain a competitive edge by boosting their skills base or accessing the knowledge, research and innovation capability that exists in abundance in our colleges.

“In the last three years alone, the colleges have supported around 3,700 local businesses, upskilled over 7,000 employees and delivered 41 Assured Skills Academies, which provide practical learning designed in partnership with companies and a guaranteed job interview for participants. It is this type of approach that the colleges have a proven track record in delivering that is truly beneficial for all involved.”

In conclusion, Mr Lavery added: “The Let’s Do Business initiative is a key element of the Further Education Means Success strategy, which sets the direction for the FE sector in Northern Ireland and seeks to ensure that the colleges continue to provide a competitive boost to the local economy coupled with fantastic opportunities to learners.”

Michael McAlister, Principal of South West College, said: “Our Regional Colleges are now playing an increasingly important role in supporting local business and industry by stimulating increased levels of innovation and providing support for research and commercialisation activities.

“We provide a diverse range of support services to business spanning innovation services, product development, business improvement techniques, technical and knowledge transfer support, as well as customised training solutions aimed at supporting workforce development. With over 3,700 local businesses supported over the past three years alone, many more businesses in the region are realising the valuable untapped knowledge resource available at our regional colleges and we want to grow this further through the Let’s Do Business initiative launched today. Let’s Do Business aims to build on the excellent work already established in this area, by strengthening our offering to local and regional business and industry but to do this in a co-ordinated and responsive way as a sector. We are making a real difference in allowing our indigenous companies to innovate, diversify and grow and to compete on a global stage. As regional colleges we fully recognise that we can achieve more by working together and this is precisely the message of Let’s Do Business.”

John Healy, Managing Director Allstate NI, said: “Allstate has cultivated a solid relationship with Belfast Metropolitan College already; most recently collaborating on their Belfast IT Girls event during the summer. The event was composed of a four-day tech camp for female enthusiasts aged 14-19, with an emphasis on Cyber Security, Internet of Things and Digital Content Creation. Allstate is committed to nurturing the tech talent of tomorrow, and we believe the local FE Colleges produce a wealth of said talent.

“Our operation here in Belfast has benefited significantly from this engagement and I look forward to maintaining and growing our links with the FE sector as we continue to expand our presence in Northern Ireland.”

Ken Webb, Principal and Chief Executive at SERC added: “The FE sector is committed to creating a globally competitive economy. On a day-to-day basis we are working with businesses right across Northern Ireland from the large multi-nationals to the SMEs and micro businesses which are the very heart of our local economy. Through collaboration with the FE sector, businesses can improve productivity, innovation, and creativity to help support a more competitive local economy.”

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