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Assembly Speech- Training for Success 10/06/2008

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Mr Speaker / Deputy Speaker

 In rising to support this motion I welcome this report.  I would like to thank the Chair, Ms Ramsey, for her diligence in bringing this report forward, the Deputy Chair, my colleague Jimmy Spratt the member for South Belfast and Mr Rab McConaghy and his team for the excellent work they have done in compiling the report. In my available short time I would like to stress just three points.

a)       the background to Training for Success

b)       the role of the department and industry in taking the report forward

c)       building on the report

A) BACKGROUND 

The Training for Success initiative became necessary following the report of the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster that described the predecessor to the Programme, Job Skills, as one of the worst run programmes that the PAC had examined in recent years.  The PAC made a number of damning comments on Job Skills including, and I quote:

“One of the most damming aspects of the Departments handling is the extent to which a number of the most fundamental weaknesses- such as poor quality training and high levels of early leaving from the scheme- persisted over many years.” 

“Given the substantial skills mismatch between Job Skills and the needs of the Northern Ireland economy we can only concede that in f ar too many respects Job Skills has provided poor value for money.” 

At this stage I want to pay tribute to the senior management team in DEL who I believe have listened to the Committee and industry and although Training for Success is not yet there in terms of the best that it can be we are now a far distance from Job Skills.   

B) THE ROLE OF THE DEPARTMENT AND IN DELIVERING THE STRATEGY 

The Minister has agreed that his strategy is to deliver to meet the needs of the economy and society- a demand led strategy. The Committee in compiling the report visited the Further Education provision in Omagh- an excellent site and the Department should be proud of the facility. There were two aspects of the visit that were for the Committee revealing.  One, the college produced well qualified students in hairdressing and beauty therapy.  These motivated young people had little opportunity to gain career opportunities as the local industry was not able to absorb the number of students qualifying each year.  This is very disappointing for our young people.  Two, within the automotive courses, students who progressed through the vocational educational strand were unable to gain the necessary practical workshop experience as there were not sufficient employers willing to offer the opportunity to the automotive apprentices.  Again this is disheartening for the young person.  These examples need to be addressed in the interests of our young people and the economy. The approach to determine the demand led strategy is complex and multilayered involving:

  • The Skills Expert Group- operating on a Northern Ireland wide remit- Senior business people and statutory departments
  • Workforce Development Fora- Based in the six regional FE Colleges
  • The Sector Skills Councils- 25 each with a Sector Skills Agreement agreed with DEL / INI / Industry
  • Sector Training Councils- sector specific initiatives
  • Training and education providers- including FE Colleges and private companies

 The complex nature of this strategic approach leads me to believe that the Omagh situation will be replicated in other areas.  And if the Sector Skills Council agrees a strategy for the sectors of industry why is this strategy not the document that informs the operational debate for the economy.  The problems facing the automotive and construction sector seem to me to be created, not in totality but in part, to be as a result of this multi-layered approach.  Addressing this could help take us another step forward.  

C) BUILDING ON THE REPORT 

Northern Ireland once had a vocational training system that was the envy of Europe.  This included Government Training Centres (GTCs) and a training / grant levy system. This report if implemented by DEL will help take the vocational training for our apprentices forward.  We do need to reach for the sky in training terms and ensure that excellence in training is our benchmark.  This requires us to think about centres of vocational training excellence that will provide a steady flow of young qualified people, motivated and skilled that will be able to apply for a career type job in industry. We need prestigious centres that will train the senior staff of tomorrow; this requires vocational qualifications to have educational pathways right through to degree level qualifications.  Vocational training should never be considered as a second class option and society needs to value our professional and technical training that produces our technicians and technologists on a par with the academic system that produces our doctors and dentists. Only the best should be good enough for our young people and only the best will meet the needs of the economy.

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