NI to borrow Republic’s Fastrack to IT model

5 Jun 2008

A training initiative that saw over 6,000 long-term unemployed people in the Republic of Ireland get trained up and gain well-paid jobs in the ICT industry is to be rolled out in Northern Ireland.

The Fast Track to IT (FIT) gave Irish people speedy access to the technical and software skills they needed to access the myriad of ICT job opportunities that emerged when the Celtic Tiger was at its zenith.

In the space of nine years, over 6,000 people – including the long-term unemployed – were given specific training to fill labour shortages in the jobs market at the time.

The initiative, which involved collaboration between agencies like FÁS, colleges and participating private sector companies, scored a 64pc success rating in progressing participants with private sector employers.

Participants in the scheme included AIB, AOL, Eircom, BT, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Siemens and HP.

Yesterday it emerged that Northern Ireland, which in recent months has seen a massive influx of new jobs in the technology sector from overseas investors, will establish FIT NI to enable rapid response to labour shortages of ICT skills as they arise, as well as tackling social marginalisation.

“Interest in Northern Ireland as an investment location has never been higher, despite the global uncertainty sparked by the credit crunch and rising energy prices,” said Billy McClean programme manager for FIT NI. “But is the local workforce fit for purpose?

“Overseas investors will only locate in Northern Ireland if we can maintain a healthy flow of employees with key skills such as ICT. There are already worrying signs though that the local ICT labour market is beginning to overheat, despite the fact that at 27.5pc Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of economic inactivity in Europe.

“Given that employers are finding it increasingly hard to find ICT-literate employees, while there’s a ready supply of untapped talent which has difficulty accessing job opportunities, FIT NI believes it provides a solution which can tackle social marginalisation whilst also improving Northern Ireland’s competitiveness,” McClean said.

FIT NI has already run a number of pilot programmes in the Belfast area with local training providers and some 250 people have completed the process and are in full-time employment and further education.

“In just nine years FIT has provided over 6,000 Irish people with the technical and software skills they needed to access employment opportunities in the Celtic Tiger’s burgeoning ICT sector,” said Microsoft Ireland’s HR director, Fiona Mullan.

“Now that Northern Ireland is beginning to reap the benefits of a stable political environment, it’s vital that it has the people available to take advantage of any uplift in employment opportunities.

“Northern Ireland has a rare window of opportunity to sell itself on the world stage – it would be tragic if potential investments were lost due to artificial shortages in the labour market caused by a failure to engage effectively with those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds,” Mullen warned.

By John Kennedy