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Covid-19: Further education qualifications put on hold

By Maria McCann

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  • Coronavirus pandemic
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image captionA majority of higher-level apprentices have not returned to training

Hundreds of NI further education students will not receive their qualifications as planned due to disrupted work placements during the coronavirus lockdown.

Almost 900 young people whose training was postponed will be affected.

Principals have also warned of potential longer-term consequences of continued disruption.

A majority of higher-level apprentices (76%) who were put on a job retention scheme have not returned to training.

Stormont's economy committee has been told that 39% of Level Two and Level Three apprentices furloughed are still off work.

Enrolment drop

The committee heard half of all employers who had previously committed to recruiting new apprenticeships were now not in a position to do so.

Ken Webb, chief executive of the South Eastern Regional College, said there had also been a drop in apprenticeships enrolments, where employers have been confirmed.

The number of trainees with confirmed engineering apprenticeships in place has dropped by 77% compared to last year.

Confirmed electrical and mechanical placements are almost 50% down on 2019.

Mr Webb said in light of the current financial climate, companies felt they "cannot spend time training apprentices and trainees".

"Employers are aware schemes are being developed, but they need to be able to access them now," said Mr Webb.

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"The incentives would encourage employers not just to recruit new apprentices, but to bring existing apprentices back from furlough.

"We're concerned that without clarity around these interventions, employers will disengage."

Economy Minister Diane Dodds told the committee that £17.2m had been secured to support apprenticeships, and announcements on how it would be allocated would be made soon.

image captionEconomy Minister Diane Dodds said it had been her priority to ensure FE colleges were able to welcome back students

"We will be looking to get apprentices back from furlough and into the workplace, that firms will retain those apprentices right through to the successful completion of their actual course.

"We also want to look at incentives to provide new apprentices, because that is very important in providing career pathways for our young people."

The principals of the further education colleges have called for funding to be confirmed and allocated quickly.

Brian Doran, chief executive of the Southern Regional College, said: "While that is all welcome news, our problem at the moment is that there is no detail issued yet.

"We have many young people who want to take up apprenticeships, but without the detail behind the incentive schemes the department is currently working on, I would say in many cases it's going to be too late.

"We need a level of urgency in relation to progressing the support packages for apprenticeships."

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