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More NI firms need to recruit their first apprentices, warns Semta

More businesses in Northern Ireland need to take on their first apprentices to avoid a looming skills gap, according to Semta, the SSC for science, engineering and advanced manufacturing.

Figures released today show more engineering and advanced manufacturing firms in Northern Ireland are taking on apprentices and graduates for the first time. Semta said over year it has supported the recruitment and training of 99 apprentices and 20 graduates with companies that have never taken them on before.

However, John Leighton, who chairs Semta’s Northern Ireland regional council, said the country needs to go further.

“The increase in firms taking on apprentices and graduates for the first time is welcome but if we are to ensure Northern Ireland’s engineering and advanced manufacturing industry remains at the forefront of economic recovery then we must do more,” he said.

“I would urge those businesses yet to engage with Semta – particularly SMEs – to do so.”

Around 3,000 skilled workers are set to retire in Northern Ireland by the end of 2016, and Semta estimates a further 6,700 employees will need to improve their skills.

Stephen Farry, Northern Ireland’s Employment and Learning Minister, said it plans to pilot a higher level apprenticeship framework in engineering that will include a foundation degree designed to meet the specific skills needs of local employers.

“This will further strengthen the existing partnership between the engineering and further education sectors and I believe that a higher level apprenticeship will provide the sector with a progression route to higher level skills for those in work and those entering the workplace for the first time,” he said.

“I look forward to announcing the launch of the higher level apprenticeship pilot in the very near future.”

Natalie Thornhill

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