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Belfast Met can play a vital role in economic recovery

Photo: Belfast Met Principal & CEO, Louise Warde Hunter

Published: 9 June 2020

Further Education Colleges in Northern Ireland have a key role to play in helping to rebuild the economy after coronavirus, MLAs heard today.

Belfast Met Principal and CEO Louise Warde Hunter alongside Principals from two of Northern Ireland’s colleges told Stormont’s Economy Committee that the sector can play a crucial role in supporting businesses to recover and rebuild, by ensuring Northern Ireland continues to have high numbers of people who are skilled and work-ready.

Louise Warde Hunter, Belfast Metropolitan College, Michael McAlister, South West College and Leo Murphy, North West Regional College; were briefing Stormont’s Economy Committee, earlier this morning.

The principals also stated that they are working closely with the Department for the Economy to look at how vocational learning can resume as soon as it is safe to do so. At present, there is a significant number of students who cannot complete work-based qualifications due to lockdown measures.

The importance of apprenticeships in ensuring economic recovery was also stressed, with the college Principals calling for apprenticeships to be protected and promoted. Higher level apprenticeships have been recognised as a key driver in ensuring skills needs are met in Northern Ireland and that there is a pool of talent that employers can draw upon.

The six Colleges in Northern Ireland currently support over 61,000 individual students across 29 campuses and contribute around £126 million into the economy in salaries and wages. One of the key aims of the sector is to promote social inclusion as well as support economic growth.

Speaking after briefing the Economy Committee, Louise Warde Hunter, Principal and Chief Executive, Belfast Metropolitan College stated:

“A core objective of the Further Education sector is to improve social inclusion. This is an area where our value to society is unquestionable. In the 2018-2019 academic year, almost 43 per cent of our regulated enrolments came from two of the most deprived wards in Northern Ireland. We are proud of this but know we have much more work to do.

“Support for the most disadvantaged communities is critical and as we enter the recovery phase, it is more important than ever that no one is left behind and everyone has access to learning opportunities that can lead to a sustainable career.”

The principals also outlined that a significant majority of the jobs which are keeping the Northern Ireland economy going now are professional and technical. That includes key roles in health and social care, construction, manufacturing, and IT.

Michael McAlister, Chief Executive, South West College added:

“As we move out of lockdown, the economic challenges we face as a society are enormous, but the Further Education sector can play a crucial role in our economic recovery.

“Further Education colleges must be supported to continue to provide apprenticeships and other opportunities to support employer needs and ensure that also students moving from education have real employment opportunities.

“Latest figures have shown that there could be around 50,000 redundancies in Northern Ireland. It is therefore imperative that we focus on how our sector can ensure the right skills mix is developed to support key industries to grow post-pandemic.”

Leo Murphy, Principal and Chief Executive, North West Regional College added:

“In the past couple of months, it has become evident that many of the industries that have been keeping our economy going from healthcare to food production to manufacturing, are highly vocational.

“Many of our former students are now working in these frontline roles and serving their communities and keeping the economy going. In the past number of months, staff and students have also developed PPE on a large scale to support the frontline fight against coronavirus.

“As we look to rebuild, the programmes offered at our colleges including Foundation Degrees and Higher-Level Apprenticeships will be vital for employers who require a skilled workforce with the technical skills and expertise to meet the challenges of the future.”

Belfast Metropolitan College will continue to lead the city to work by playing a crucial role in the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy post Covid-19.

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