On Tuesday 4th April senior leaders from across Northern Ireland’s Further Education (FE) sector and the Department for the Economy (DfE) came together with key stakeholders from Invest NI, Innovate UK, and InterTrade Ireland, to strengthen the sectors focus on innovation development and growth. This collaborative event was organised to support DfE’s Innovation Strategy that clearly sets out the key long term actions necessary to ensure that innovation plays its full part in realising the vision of Northern Ireland’s draft Industrial Strategy.
The event, hosted by South West College Dungannon Campus, focused on addressing key innovation policy decisions spearheaded by DfE, innovation growth to support SME’s and ingredients for innovation success in Northern Ireland. One of the key outputs for this type of collaborative approach was to create a focused innovation network that can design, implement, and strategically manage innovation developments across the sector.
Gerry Campbell, Chief Executive of Colleges Northern Ireland, the membership body for Northern Ireland’s six Further Education Colleges said:
“We know that innovation is clearly linked to economic growth, competitiveness and productivity. The more innovation amongst our indigenous companies - the stronger the prospects for growth. Today’s workshop highlights the role that FE Colleges play in stimulating innovation through their close links to business and industry, particularly small and medium sized enterprises. Colleges encourage and support businesses to become innovative and help them develop new products and processes. Overall this results in local companies being better positioned to compete within the global market-place. ”
“For example, the InnovateUS Programme harnesses FE expertise to provide tailored solutions to Northern Ireland’s small businesses to acquire the necessary skills to be able to grow through innovation and develop new products and services. As a key driver of the Northern Ireland economy, the FE Colleges partnership with business and the success of the InnovateUS Programme will develop business confidence and expertise and increase the overall economic competitiveness of Northern Ireland.”
Interactive workshops took place to showcase new and emerging technologies including; the ‘Internet of Things Widget’ that explored ideation and prototyping of an ‘IOT Widget’, and ‘Innovation Stakeholders’ that examined the College’s support for SMEs through Innovation Vouchers, TechStartNI, and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs).
Dr Jill Cush, Head of Business and Innovation South West College, said;
“The FE sector as a whole recognises that innovation is a crucial driver of growth in the region’s economy and a collaborative approach is needed to boost Northern Ireland’s global outreach going forward. On an annual basis Colleges provide hands-on innovation support to over 400 companies across Northern Ireland in areas including product design and prototyping. This leads directly to new job creation and business growth.”