Conference Speech 2008

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Ladies and Gentlemen

Economic prosperity is an essential for a real and sustainable peace in Northern Ireland.  Successful western economies are underpinned by a working age population with skills and knowledge at all levels of attainment.

In Northern Ireland we once had a vocational training and skills programme that was the envy of Europe.  Statutory training boards covered all major sectors of industry and Government Training Centres (GTCs) provided excellence in training for apprenticeship skills.  This successful training system was demolished and replaced by voluntary arrangements.

This lead to the Government’s one-time, but thankfully now past, training programme - Job Skills – described as one of the worst initiatives the Westminster Public Accounts Committee had ever examined -  portrayed by many as £500 million down the drain. 


This has been improved by the most recent initiative – the Training for Success Programme.

In Northern Ireland we have many excellent schools, at Primary, Secondary and Grammar; we have two world-class universities - but we also have schools that are underperforming.

Our future prosperity will depend only on the credentials, the know-how and expertise of our people.  The delivery of the skills training, at all levels, needs to meet the demands of the economy and to provide the skilled employees of the future. Training programmes must lead to successful careers based on high levels of skill that will be in demand and of benefit to the economy.
And are we there yet, I don’t think so; I don’t consider we are achieving what needs to accomplished on behalf of our young people; in fact all our people.
Skills training provision is important for all of us.
Let me outline this in the following way.

It is important for you as an individual or you have brothers and sisters, sons or daughters or nephews and nieces. You want the best opportunities for them you don’t want them wasting their time qualifying and not having a job at the end of the training.

Reg Empey, the Minister for Education and Learning, tells me that his Dept’s strategy is based on a demand led approach.

I visited the new FE College in Omagh. This is a first class facility and Omagh should be rightly proud of this FE College.
However on discussing the training on offer this is what I learned
1. Young people studying and qualifying in hairdressing and beauty on qualifying cannot get employment

2. Automotive engineering apprentices on completing their two years in college cannot get employer workplace experience to finish their City & Guilds qualifications.
HOW FRUSTRATING AND DEMOTIVATING IS THIS?

SURELY WE NEED TO DO BETTER FOR THOSE ENTERING APPRENTICESHIPS

On the other hand those who are fortunate enough to get a training place with Bombardier or Northern Ireland Electricity enter into programme hosted by the employer, financially supported by Department for Employment and Learning and out of which an apprentice is nearly guaranteed a first class job with good future prospects.
In Scotland those who want to be apprentice automotive engineers have the same opportunity as the Bombardier and Northern Ireland Electricity. They are able to enter a system that is developed in conjunction with employers, supported by employers, has public money financing the training and the apprentices are able to get employment through the supporting car dealers’ network.

And in London a retail fashion college offers the same opportunities to those who want a retail career in fashion.  Because the employers support the college.
This is not rocket science - this sensible approach is the outworking of a demand led strategy something Reg Empey says he operates.
But I have given you examples of his failure to properly put into place the structures that will enable all those who want to acquire the skills the economy demands - and to the open door to a good future career.

IS THIS NOT WHAT WE OWE TO ALL OUR PEOPLE, YOUR SONS AND DAUGHTERS AND NEPHEWS AND NEICES.

I have already mentioned that we have many good schools and those that are underachieving. We need to build on the success of the excellent schools and boost the performance the others so we can produce the young people with the academic and vocational qualifications so they can go on to become the engineers, technicians, technologists and the skilled craftsmen of the future.
In conclusion Mr Chairman,

FUTURE SKILLS TRAINING PROVISION NEEDS TO BE CHARACTERISED BY:
• HIGH QUALITY PROVISION
• SUCCESS BY ACHIEVEMENT
• ATTAINMENT AND REACHING FOR THE STARS
• GIVING CONFIDENCE FOR THE FUTURE
• CAREER PROSPECTS

Everything that you want for your family, all that you want for your friends and all the economy demands.