Thirty-eight apprentice electricians in Armagh will be forced to find an alternative training provider following the sudden withdrawal of the Electrical Training Trust from the city.
The company, which operates across Northern Ireland, cited the two main reasons for the termination as “insufficient communication” and “funding”.
However, the news, which the company says will have a “minimal impact”, has left some apprentices confused about their next move.
A company spokesman said: “Following careful and responsible consideration of the circumstances, it is with much regret that the Board of Employers has become obliged to announce its intention to cease interest in electrical apprenticeship training under the present conditions.
“The organisation foresees a transitional wind-up period of apprenticeship training over the next few months, during which time existing apprentices may be able to complete outstanding work with this provider, or be transferred to a new one.
“Every effort will be made to ensure that no employer or apprentice becomes disadvantaged during the apprenticeship wind-up period. The management team at ETT will be working closely with Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) officials and other stakeholders with the aim of achieving an orderly handover.”
One young apprentice, who has just completed his first year on the scheme, told Armagh I that the decision is “a disaster” for him.
“I’m a first year apprentice on a four year contract and then all of a sudden, that’s it,” he said.
“For me, they are the best at what they do because of their methods; the only alternative spot would be Portadown. That’s fine but it’s going to be a nightmare in terms of travel.”
He added: “There are students from all over coming to ETT and now they’ve withdrawn their contract with DEL, it’s a disaster to be honest.”
However, when Armagh I contacted the company and raised these issues, ETT moved to reassure those affected.
A spokesperson told us that the apprentices’ training contracts “will be transferred over to a different supplier and that apprentices will not have to travel outside Armagh”.
ETT said they were working with the DEL to arrange suitable transfer “to another contract holder within Armagh”.
The original company statement added: “As a Northern Ireland based training provider, the organisation has been required to operate with an unchanged level of funding since 2007.
“This is in stark contrast to training providers in England and Wales, where the funding available for apprenticeship training has increased to a level that is 50% higher than that which is available to NI training providers.
“This enables training providers in England and Wales, to meet increases in contract performance and quality improvement obligations. Funding in Northern Ireland is substantially less, and is tied to onerous output related funding conditions when compared to England and Wales.”
Only this week local MP David Simpson, speaking in the House of Commons, said Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector had been one of the worst hit, but the 30% cap on manufacturing rates “has made a big difference”.
He told the House: “The latest figures show that companies may now be prepared to pay for new recruits and to invest in new staff. That may go some way to encouraging young people to embark upon apprenticeships, especially plumbers, electricians, bricklayers and other such areas in the construction sector.
“There remains a concerning lack of skilled tradesmen throughout Northern Ireland. Last year it was reported that the construction industry was paying grossly over the odds, as they had to bring recruits in from other countries to ensure that they met their completion dates.”
Mr Simpson agreed with his DUP colleague Sammy Wilson who said it was “important that Northern Ireland, like other regions of the United Kingdom, gets its fair share of the money raised through the apprenticeship levy”.
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