Lifelong learning key to economic success and prosperity for all

Date published: 25 June 2021

A vibrant, thriving economy, with employment opportunities for everyone, depends on people having the skills they need.

Economy Minister Paul Frew
Economy Minister Paul Frew

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this. Everyone has different attributes and strengths, and the right learning route for one person might not suit another. This is why it is important to offer the widest possible range of learning pathways for people to choose from, and not just as young people, but throughout their life.

Before entering politics, I trained as an electrician and spent 20 happy and productive years in that field. It was rewarding work and full of variety. I felt that I was learning all the time, from solving problems in a factory or building site setting, to picking up tips from others in the trade at the top of their game.

And it is that process of lifelong learning, of gaining transferable skills, that is so key to the economy of the future.

My Department’s 10X Economic Vision sets out how the future economy will be based on innovation, with a diverse mix of employment opportunities in new and emerging digital fields.

I also want to see inclusive growth, with investment in more traditional, yet constantly evolving, areas such as hospitality and trades like plumbing and electrical.

Our 10X Skills Strategy, currently out for public consultation, sets out how we will focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths to equip people for the future employment market.

And I am keen that the careers advice that people receive reflects these changing trends. No longer can people expect to stay in one area of employment for their whole working life. People expect to be able to train and retrain, upskill and reskill, so that they can change jobs, and indeed their whole career path, as the employment landscape changes and new opportunities arise.

My Department’s Careers Service uses labour market information provided by the Department’s economists to help people of all ages make informed careers decisions. The overall aim is to support people to access, sustain and progress in employment over a lifetime that fulfils their potential and career ambition, and contributed to the economic prosperity of Northern Ireland.

Our local further education colleges provide learning opportunities in a wide range of fields, with vocational qualifications, Apprenticeships and Higher Level Apprenticeships available in areas as diverse as hair and beauty, engineering and retail. The colleges also offer foundation degrees and higher education courses. And of course our local universities are world-renowned for their teaching and research.

My Department is working with the Department of Education to develop and improve provision for young people aged 14-19, such a key time in life when important choices are made. We want young people to have access to the pathway best suited to them as individuals, so that they can go on to learn, and earn, in their own right.

I plan to establish a Skills Council for Northern Ireland which will bring together leaders from government, business, education and trade unions because I want to put these key sectors at the heart of our efforts to drive forward skills development.

And I want to tackle inequality by supporting people with low or no qualifications to overcome the barriers to employment and making the most of their capabilities.

The 10X Economic Vision and Skills Strategy point the way to making Northern Ireland one the world’s leading small economies by building on our successes and using our strengths to go even further.

We can only realise this vision if everyone in society has a stake. I am committed to doing all I can as Economy Minister to achieve the goal of delivering better skills, better jobs and better lives, for all our people.


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