Assured Skills

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 25th October 2016.

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Photo of Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP 3:00 pm, 25th October 2016

5. Ms Lockhart asked the Minister for the Economy for an update on the Assured Skills programme. (AQO 558/16-21)

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

The Assured Skills programme is continuing to deliver for Northern Ireland. Alongside support provided by Invest Northern Ireland, Assured Skills support continues to be instrumental in securing new jobs for Northern Ireland, such as the 94 support engineering jobs and research and development jobs recently announced by Metaswitch.

The Assured Skills offer has many benefits for companies. They can find employees in what is commonly a new labour market, and any training developed is bespoke, helping to find people with the right skills and attributes for their company. Trainees are also more productive more quickly, with a consequent positive effect on the company's bottom line. Furthermore, networks are established with local further education colleges and universities, with the potential for ongoing links to mutual benefit.

To date, there have been 22 company projects through Assured Skills, and, when they are fully realised, some 5,704 jobs will be created. That will benefit the local economy by £144 million each year. In addition, Assured Skills supports short-term interventions to meet identified needs of existing employers in Northern Ireland and to help unemployed graduates find suitable employment. The Software Testers' Academy has been the most successful intervention to date. However, we have also used our academy model to meet needs in areas such as cloud computing, data analytics, financial services, 2D animation and computer numerical control machining. That has benefited companies such as HighWire Press, Deloitte, PwC, EY, Alexander Mann Solutions, FinTrU, Magellan Aerospace and WhiteHat Security, to name but a few. Assured Skills is an innovative and responsive programme that has made a big impact in a short period. However, the programme is continuing to evolve, and it is my intention to keep Assured Skills at the leading edge of economic interventions.

Photo of Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive answer. Skills is an area that I am very interested in. I think of my constituency of Upper Bann and the industries that we have. Can the Minister outline what consideration he is giving to future skills needs, particularly in agrifood and life sciences?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I agree with the Member: skills is an incredibly important part — sometimes a differentiating part — of Northern Ireland's proposition to inward investors in particular. I mentioned one investment in my first answer in which it was a differentiator. It was the difference-maker, and it was what landed the investment in Northern Ireland rather than somewhere else. We have our skills barometer in place, and we have the work of the MATRIX panel, which has identified growth sectors in our economy, particularly where there are skills needs that will evolve when corporation tax is reduced. That will hopefully bring growth in existing sectors of our economy but also in some different ones.

There is a strong evidence base that we are following. We have a future skills programme coming into place that will, in the first instance, have 240 people going through six colleges. That is across Northern Ireland and not limited to, say, the greater Belfast area. The programme will be specifically in data analytics and cybersecurity in the first instance, which are both existing strong sectors but ones in which there is huge potential moving forward. We will consider other sectors, and other sectors are being considered, including life and health sciences, which are a huge part of the Member's Upper Bann constituency. As I said, skills are central to our attractiveness as a region to invest in, and I think that the Assured Skills programme and the future skills programme that we are developing will be key to achieving success.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy Deputy Speaker 3:15 pm, 25th October 2016

That ends the period for listed questions. We will now move on to topical questions.