Council, employers and college showcase value of apprenticeships to modern economy

Northern Regional College (NRC) students were challenged to put their creative thinking and idea generation skills to use by designing the ‘Perfect Work Placement’ at a workshop held in partnership with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Catalyst Inc as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Through a range of exercises aimed at encouraging innovative ways to problem solve, the Travel & Tourism and Business Studies students worked together to create a ‘prototype’ of what their ideal apprenticeship or work experience would look like, under the guidance of Patricia Flanagan from the training and consultancy firm, Rejig.

The workshop – which took place at the Ecos Centre in Ballymena – was one of more than 30 free events delivered by Council and its partner organisations during Mid and East Antrim Enterprise Week, which offered local students, budding entrepreneurs and established businesses the opportunity to network, learn new skills and hear how they could make self-employment work for them.

In conjunction with local employers, schools and other leading public and voluntary sector organisations, the Enterprise Week events programme provided insights into key industry areas including Digital, Agri-Food, Childminding, and Transport & Logistics.

Ashleigh Harris, Generation Innovation Programme Manager with Catalyst Inc, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with the Council on a workshop such as this one. It’s great to be able to work towards a common goal in supporting our young people to be the innovators and leaders of the next generation.

“It’s fantastic that Council are putting financial support into workshops like this for the students to upskill, form connections with the different companies in this building, and have the opportunity to step outside their comfort zone and build on their confidence.”

Northern Regional College Travel & Tourism Lecturer, Karen McLeod, said: “This is a great initiative by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Catalyst to give our students an insight into developing their skills ahead of going out on placement and working as entrepreneurs.

“Apprenticeships and placements are totally invaluable to our students because it is a highly competitive environment out there today. It’s a wonderful experience for them and they come back to the classroom with new skills and more understanding of what goes on in the real working world.”

Patricia Flanagan from Rejig, meanwhile, said: “It is really important that Council is promoting a skillset for young people, and encouraging them to think, during Global Entrepreneurship Week, about the possibility of alternative routes to employment. There are some areas that the academic route is perfect for a lot of students but for others this pathway, where they are working from day one, really suits a lot of people.

“The tools that they will learn today will be valuable to them and hopefully build their confidence in their own ability to think differently and speak out, to find a way to have their voice heard and to work collaboratively in a team with others.”

Sophie Irwin, Head of Talent & Culture with Clarke Facades, which is based at the Ecos Centre, said it is important there is an understanding among employers that the next generation workforce will have ‘different expectations’ in regard to their career choices.

“At Clarke Facades we realise that the traditional routes of getting talent aren’t really serving us as well as it could, and we are really interested in bringing young people in through the business.

“We think it is about providing an opportunity to find out if construction is something you’d like to be involved in, what skills you might have that you didn’t think could be used in the world of construction. We can help young people work that out, maybe on a placement or an apprenticeship scheme.”

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