How Northern Ireland colleges can help local businesses and what services they provide was the subject of a Committee breakfast meeting, which took place at Parliament Buildings on Wednesday, 6 October.
MLA Dolores Kelly, Chair of the Employment and Learning Committee, has put the full authority of her Committee behind this important initiative. She said: "In the current climate, and the probable cuts to the Executive budget, we need to be much more focused on making the most of public investment. We cannot afford to have a workforce that is not highly skilled, highly motivated and highly employable, with well developed transferable skills."
"I believe that our colleges have a key role to play. Not only are they instrumental in providing targeted training, they are working to equip our young people with skills needed to succeed in new sectors, such as renewable energy."
Encouraging greater links between the colleges and business sector is not the only way that the Committee is working to improve the local economy. The Committee has also taken a strong interest in those not in education, employment or training, the so-called NEETs. The Committee has recently completed an Inquiry into this issue, working closely with stakeholders and the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL). It is expected that many of the recommendations in the forthcoming report will be implemented by the Department of Employment and Learning.
Mrs Kelly is in no doubt of the importance of this twin track approach. She said: "Some 80% of the current workforce will still be in employment in 2020. Yet, many of these workers lack even basic skills in numeracy, literacy and ICT. Given that too many of our young people are also leaving school without these essential skills and without some basic job skills it is also vital that we continue to focus on these areas."
MLA Jonathan Bell, Deputy Chair of the Committee added: "Another crucial part of this important equation is support for local companies. Our local colleges are already playing a vital role by providing a wide range of professional, vocational, technical courses and pioneering new opportunities in emerging markets. One exciting programme is the Carbon Zero NI initiative where colleges are delivering training for businesses that are developing 'green' services, such as solar or wind energy generation."
"There is no room for complacency: we can all do more. It requires strategic support from politicians and businesses as well as all those interested in improving our economy and society. Both the Chair of the Committee for Employment and Learning and I are committed to achieving these goals."