Foundation degrees are higher education qualifications delivered in FE colleges through partnerships with universities and employers. Foundation degrees combine academic study with on-the-job experience, developing students' skills and career prospects whilst benefitting employers and their business.
Eighteen year old Aaron, from Gortin, is studying a Civil Engineering Foundation degree at South West College in Omagh and is currently on work placement with FP McCann on the Oasis Project in Omagh. FP McCann are an award winning civil engineering company who have worked on major public and private sector projects across Northern Ireland.
Encouraging employers to become more involved with Foundation degrees, Employment and Learning Minster, Dr Stephen Farry, said: "Foundation degrees provide an unique link between employers and the further education colleges by combining academic and work related learning. Employers are fully involved in the design and delivery of courses. This means students graduate with a specialised set of skills designed to meet the specific needs of employers in a particular sector."
"It is a key policy of my Department that the employer-led Foundation degrees should be the primary intermediate level higher education qualification in Northern Ireland. In any organisation, people are the most valuable resource and are the key to success. It is they who drive businesses and organisations forward. It is essential that employers work with educational institutions to ensure that today's students have the skills required by businesses in the future in order to grow our local economy. The Foundation degree qualification continues to prove to be a very successful means of achieving this goal."
Discussing the attractiveness of the Foundation degree Aaron said: "I initially heard about the Foundation degree through the media and family, and my school suggested this as a career path. It really appealed to me that I could study a higher education qualification at my local college therefore saving money and being able to stay at home. With farming being a commitment of mine this meant a lot to me. The teachers at SWC were very supportive and the smaller classes for Foundation degrees meant I could easily get help from them. I am due to complete my Foundation degree in May 2015, and hope to go to university to progress to a Bachelors degree before returning to my engineering career. The work placement with FP McCann has developed the theory I have already learnt at college and reinforced my desire to work in the engineering sector."
Brendan Wylie, Aaron's manager at FP McCann, described how it became involved with Foundation degree placements: "So far we have taken on two Foundation degree work placements, with Aaron currently on a six month placement on the Oasis project in Omagh. I've been impressed with the calibre of the students coming from Foundation degree courses, they are obviously being taught the right skills. FP McCann as a company benefits as we can pick up good engineers before other companies even get the chance to find out about them, building relationships with the students and then offering full time employment opportunities after they complete their qualifications. It also proves cost effective as the students are already fully trained to our standards when they arrive on site, saving the company time and money in training a new member of staff."
William Young, Industry Liaison Officer at South West College explained the growing trend for Foundation degree students returning to their placement employer and gaining full time employment after completing their studies: "The significance of work placement for the Foundation degree student is two-fold. Firstly, it is the most important module in determining the student's overall degree classification and secondly, the experience gained is invaluable, giving the student key employability skills, which are now so necessary for employers. Whilst the provision of placements is of benefit to the students, industry has become aware of the potential to be gained from the time and effort invested in the students during placement. We, at the South West College, have noticed an increasing trend whereby employers seek to retain placement students into full time employment after completion of the Foundation degree."
More information on getting the skills you need to build a strong Foundation for your career can be found at: www.nidirect.gov.uk/skills or by calling 0300 200 7876.