Investing in the skills and talent of our workforce will help unlock economic prosperity for everyone in our society, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said today. The Minister was speaking at Belfast Met’s Titanic Quarter campus as he launched ‘Skills for a 10X Economy’, the Department for the Economy’s strategy to support more people to improve their job prospects and fulfil their economic potential.
The Skills Strategy is a key pillar of the Department’s wider 10X Economic Vision for Northern Ireland and sets out plans to focus on innovation by increasing further education qualifications in technical and professional skills and rebalancing higher education towards Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).
The Minister said: “As we look to accelerate the economic recovery, our vision is to make Northern Ireland one of the world’s elite small economies. The skills of our workforce are central to achieving this goal.
“Our local workforce is already talented, but it is important that we capitalise and build on that foundation. Access to skills and talent is the number one issue for business right across all sectors of our economy.
“For every step up the skills ladder an individual takes, the greater the potential reward. People with degrees on average earn over 50% more than those with low-level qualifications. By investing in our skills and talent, we will create more and better job opportunities with greater earning potential for everyone.
“In turn, this will lead to better individual wellbeing and a better society for everyone.”
The Minister continued: “‘Skills for a 10X Economy’ sets out how we will deliver substantial growth in qualifications in technical and professional skills through our further education colleges.
“In parallel, we will seek to rebalance graduate and postgraduate qualifications in higher education. We want to focus on STEM subjects that are so critical in providing people with the skills they will require for the jobs of the future.
“The strategy will also tackle inequality by supporting people with low or no qualifications to overcome barriers to employment and making the most of their capabilities. This is of utmost importance with 13% of our working age population holding no qualifications – nearly double the UK average.”
Following a recommendation made in research carried out by the OECD, the Department has also established a Skills Council for Northern Ireland to provide effective advice on the development and implementation of skills policy.
On this, the Minister added: “The NI Skills Council brings together senior policymakers, business leaders, representatives of the education sector and trade unions to provide ongoing advice and support as we begin the process of implementing the strategy. This includes arrangements to continue with the whole-of-government approach to ensure a more cohesive, collaborative approach to skills policy.”
Jackie Henry, Managing Partner People and Purpose Deloitte UK and Chair of the Northern Ireland Skills Council, said: “I very much welcome the publication of the new Skills Strategy for Northern Ireland. The local economy is evolving as Northern Ireland takes advantage of global growth in areas such as business and financial services, cyber security and advanced manufacturing. It is vital, therefore, that we have people with the skills to fully exploit the opportunities that are available right now and in the future.”
Louise Warde Hunter, Principal and Chief Executive of Belfast Met, said: “The further education sector is a skills engine for Northern Ireland and will be central to supporting government to deliver on its ambitious vision set out in this new strategy, with the goal of inclusive growth.
“An economy that works for everyone is an economy in which all can participate. Having the right skills is the passport to making that inclusion real. The investment in skills and talent that will follow from the ‘Skills for a 10X Economy’ strategy will directly impact upon our learners as well as employers.
“Work-ready staff are central to the economic future of Northern Ireland and Belfast Met looks forward to playing its full part in equipping learners, driving innovation and transforming lives.”
Angela McGowan, Director, Confederation of British Industries, Northern Ireland, said: “The CBI is delighted to see the NI Skills Strategy published this week. Businesses across Northern Ireland tell us that access to skills is their number one priority.
“It is widely acknowledged that economic growth and living standards are hugely dependent on the quality and supply of the local labour force. This strategy aims to take Northern Ireland’s workforce to the next level by investing in young people, investing in life-long learning and ensuring that the local skill set matches the needs of our economy.”
‘Skills for a 10X Economy’ has been published following a 12-week public consultation on the draft document launched last year.
The strategy is available here