§ Jane Kennedy
The Northern Ireland Skills Task Force was established in 1999 to advise Government on skills issues. The Task Force has published skills monitoring reports, the most recent in September 2003, and has conducted research on future skills needs in priority skills areas including engineering, construction and tourism.
The Department seeks to address the identified skill needs through its various programmes including the Jobskills Training programme and Further and Higher Education provision. Jobskills, including Modern Apprenticeships, together with a wider range of vocational education and training which addresses local and NI-wide skills needs, is provided through a network of further education colleges and private sector training providers.
The Department has highlighted six priority skill areas for the further education sector and provides additional funding for these areas (computing, construction and the built environment, electronic engineering, manufacturing engineering, hospitality and catering, and software engineering). The development of Centres of Excellence in colleges in the six priority skill areas ensures that the provision is of industry standard. There are currently 13 Centres of Excellence in eight colleges. The Department also works closely with 13 Sector Training Councils in NI covering the major industrial sectors. In addition, the Department plays a full role in the new Skills for Business Network, a UK-wide system including Sector Skills Councils (SSCs). These SSCs aim to address all of the skill needs of their sectors and to involve employers more fully in these issues.
With regard to elementary occupations, the Department seeks to fill such vacancies through its network of jobs and benefits offices and through use of the New Deal Programme where appropriate.
The Department has also launched the Essential Skills for Living Strategy and Action Plan, which aims to support 25,000 adults to improve their literacy and numeracy skills by the year 2005. This will enable them to improve their overall quality of life, their personal development and employment opportunities. In the first year of the strategy, 6,500 learners have participated in a range of courses offered by the colleges, employers and community and voluntary providers.776W