The prosperity and resilience of a rebalanced Northern Ireland economy will rely on a thriving Further Education sector, a panel of training and industry specialists told business leaders at a major conference organised by Colleges NI.
Held at La Mon Hotel, Belfast, the conference outlined how the six regional Further Education (FE) colleges have uniquely contributed to and sustained economy recovery and continue to lay the foundations for future jobs, growth and investment in a number of emerging lucrative sectors.
The ‘Further Education: Key driver of the NI economy’ conference also examined the challenges around the reform of Level 2 qualifications, improving school partnerships, opportunities arising from the transfer of new powers to local councils and accelerating international collaboration and innovation.
Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry addressed the conference and said: “This conference is very timely, coming as it does when we are developing a new further education strategy for Northern Ireland. The further education sector in Northern Ireland will play a vital role in growing our economy, sharing best practice with each other and with others around the world. Using technology to enthuse learners and to increase flexibility in delivery, and striving for excellence in all that they do. But above all else, colleges will offer economically relevant provision at increasing high levels to ensure that the needs of employers and individual learners are met.”
Northern Ireland’s six FE Colleges directly employ circa than 4,000 staff.
Gerry Campbell, Chief Executive of College’s NI highlighted the impact the FE sector is making: “The Further Education colleges have an important economic role in providing high quality education and skills training, thereby generating a wide array of benefits to the Northern Ireland economy. Local employers gain directly from access to effective workforce development and innovation support. Learners benefit from higher lifetime earnings, while society also reaps the dividends of an expanded tax base and lover social costs.
“Across NI, Colleges have become a hotbed for smart growth and development. During difficult times, Colleges have sustained and improved employability and established a highly trained talent pool that powers local firms towards prosperity and attracts lucrative inward investment. The fortunes of local and regional economies, depends on a thriving FE sector. If we are serious about rebalancing and rebuilding the economy, then we need to seriously value and support the impact that FE Colleges continue to make”.
Malachy McAleer, Director of South West College, added; “The Conference was an opportunity to showcase the role FE has in supporting industry. It was heartening to listen to the positive comments from industry representatives on their experiences with FE colleges, ahead of the proposed DEL-DETI merger. Industry is demonstrating confidence in the service provided by the FE Sector and this will be an important partnership as the economy demands more skilled workers and technical support.”