‘Skills are key to building a regionally balanced economy’

A year into the pandemic and as lockdown restrictions begin to relax, focus has rightly turned to economic recovery.

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 9:16 am

The pandemic has produced challenges to business and society as a whole. As we seek to rebuild some things will be changed forever, and we will have to react to and learn things differently.

The successful roll out of the vaccination programme is to be celebrated and is undoubtedly the light at the end of the tunnel, but if we do not invest in the skills of our people, we will not fully recover from the pandemic. The skills shortage in NI is striking. Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found that by 2030 NI may have the fourth highest proportion of low qualified people out of the 16 OECD comparators. To change this statistic, we must give society the opportunity to retrain and reskill. The six Further Education Colleges are the means to do this.

I welcome that the Department of the Economy’s 10X Skills Strategy recognised the potential of the FE sector by planning to deliver significant growth in technical and professional qualifications through the six Colleges. For decades, our economy has been regionally unbalanced with the North West having higher levels of unemployment and inequality. North West Regional College is the vehicle in which we can challenge this unbalance. By investing in local people’s skills and proactively responding to business needs NWRC helps to increase employment opportunities, improve productivity, grow incomes, support community cohesion and improve social mobility.

Leo Murphy, Chief Executive and Principal of North West Regional College.
Leo Murphy, Chief Executive and Principal of North West Regional College.

An example of this is our recently launched Advanced Technical Awards and Traineeships. These awards have been developed to not only meet the needs of the individual, but also employers to ensure they have the workforce to grow their business and our local economy. The awards in disciplines such as IT, health and social care, finance, applied science and business will address the significant skills gaps in those areas.

As we come out of the pandemic and focus turns to economic recovery, our sector must be seen as the channel to create economic prosperity that is balanced across the entirety of Northern Ireland.

As a collective the Further Education Colleges have launched a new campaign called ‘FE for Me’ that the promotes the role of further education in growing our economy and skills. It is time that we worked together to ensure the people we have here are nurtured and encouraged to pursue pathways that improve their skills and play a collective role in our economic recovery. That will lead to prosperity for all.

For more information visit www.furthereducationni.com.