National Apprenticeship Week is an opportunity to get serious about decent training for young workers and our economy

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Jackie Pollock, Unite Regional Secretary

Apprenticeship levy has not worked in Northern Ireland, we need a return to an employment-led, partnership approach to skills

Young workers must receive decent pay and conditions from day one in a workplace apprenticeship with a firm expectation of a job at the end

March 4th: Jackie Pollock, Unite Regional Secretary for Ireland, used the start of National Apprenticeship Week to demand a new approach to providing work-based training for young people and our economy.

“Apprenticeships are vital for the future success of Northern Ireland’s economy, in particular that of our manufacturing sector. Figures released last week by the Department for Economy demonstrate that despite major job-loss announcements, manufacturing here continues to grow rapidly. Output from Manufacturing grew at 6.6 percent in the last twelve months, with overall employment in the sector increasing to 86,160 – the highest it has been in more than a decade.

“To sustain such success into the future, we need to recognise that the Apprenticeship levy has not worked in Northern Ireland. Instead it has acted as a double-tax on those employers who already provided apprenticeships and has actually resulted in them cutting back on these programmes. Unite has sought to challenge this trend, with some success, but we desperately need to move back to an employment-led approach to skills.

“Unfortunately the training provided to young people is increasingly dictated by the priorities of training providers rather than the real needs of industry. The result is a growing disconnect and a concerning skills-gap. Until the last decade, Northern Ireland retained employer-led training partnerships, which included trade union representatives, but unfortunately funding for these has been cut breaking the connection between trainee and available job opportunities. 

“Sadly today many young workers are not even told about the role of a union in protecting themselves and their trade rates, let alone encouraged to join one by their training provider. The result is widespread exploitation of young people during their period of training and the normalisation of short-term and low pay contracts when they finish.

“Unite continues to demand a Manufacturing strategy for Northern Ireland which includes a return to employer-led partnerships to provide quality, workplace-based apprenticeships  guaranteeing trainees decent pay and conditions from day one and the expectation of a permanent job at the end”, Mr Pollock said.

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