From education to employment

NI government must invest in apprenticeship opportunities says CEO of Workplus

Richard Kirk, CEO & Founder of Workplus

#ResultsDay 2020 – There has never been a better opportunity for government, business and education in Northern Ireland to work together to create more apprenticeships to curb youth unemployment, the CEO of @_Workplus has said.

Speaking as A level students receive their results today Richard Kirk, who leads the organisation which helps employers develop talent through apprenticeships, says that government incentives for businesses in Northern Ireland to create new apprenticeships are a vital investment in the local economy.

In June Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre recently predicted that youth unemployment in Northern Ireland could rise to 26% by the end of 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

Mr Kirk says that the Northern Ireland government urgently needs to commit financial support to creating sustainable opportunities for young people.

He said: “Recently we’ve heard separate announcements that businesses in England and the Republic of Ireland would be given government support for hiring apprentices – receiving around £2,000 per apprentice. We urgently need similar moves in Northern Ireland to avoid a youth unemployment crisis and to provide fresh talent into the economy.

“Apprenticeships occupy a unique space in bringing employers, young people and higher education institutions together. There is no better and no more critical time to further develop and broaden this space.

“Apprenticeships, some of which last up to six years, are the best way for businesses to find and develop new talent and they are vital to our economic recovery in the medium to long term. They are good news for employers, the economy, young people and those who want to re-train from unemployment.

“The companies we work with have told us that apprentices are loyal and three times more likely to stay than employees joining through other routes.”

Mr Kirk added that government incentives are good news for businesses which have already committed to employing apprentices as well as those currently considering it.

He said: “Many forward-thinking businesses in areas including construction, engineering, IT, manufacturing, fintech and logistics are considering how to invest in their organisation following the pandemic by reskilling or upskilling existing staff.

“This, as well as bringing in new staff with relevant skills, is going to be essential. But government support could be the nudge that companies which are anticipating growth need to make decisions on employing apprentices within the next year.

“They are looking at England and the Republic of Ireland and wondering why the same incentives do not apply here.

“To support the creation of additional apprenticeships is the most intelligent, rational and long term decision government can take.

“They can choose to invest and show confidence in young people, who will earn as they learn and have a job from the start or they can do nothing except pay Universal Credit to talented 18 year olds.”

Mr Kirk said he appreciated that many non-monetary barriers also existed in growing apprenticeships in Northern Ireland including lack of awareness of the breadth of opportunities, especially at degree level, from young people and their parents, while businesses needed to know more about how to recruit the right talent.

He added: “Workplus is keen to support the development of a wider range of apprenticeships which can better suit the future needs of industry.

“We are also keen to share information about apprenticeships as a great alternative to university, particularly in the current climate where some institutions are moving courses entirely online and students are going to have a very different university experience.

“Apprenticeships offer them a much-needed sense of purpose and place in this rapidly changing world at the heart of a supportive company.”

Liberty IT is one company which has seen the benefits of creating apprenticeship opportunities and will welcome six apprentices recruited through Workplus in the next few months.

Emma Mullan, Talent and Development Manager, at Liberty IT, said:

“We find that our apprentices really add value to our teams. They work on the same projects as the other software engineers and we support them through their learning journey so they are able to perform and contribute to an equally high standard.”

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