Executive Must Meet: CBI

On the day that business leaders have called on the Stormont Executive "to meet to tackle the effects of the looming recession", it has emerged that NI Employment and Learning Minister Sir Reg Empey has moved to assure employers that his department was "doing everything possible to assist those facing uncertainty in the current economic climate".

Nigel Smyth called on the Executive - which has not met for four months - to take urgent action: "We need confidence-building measures, particularly to help the construction and housing sectors, said Mr Smyth, who is the CBI's Director in NI.

"There is a lot of concern out there over delays and that capital is not being spent."

Mr Smyth said it was feared that there was "a risk that this capital spending will be lost if it is not spent".

However, Sir Red responded that: "This is undoubtedly a very worrying time economically, but my department is working extremely hard to help people into work and also to support them when jobs are lost.

"I can assure you that everything that can be done is being done, but I want to urge employers to take a long term view in order that our economy suffers minimal damage.

"Last week I joined with Sir Mike Rake, Chairman of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, and other UK senior businessmen and union leaders to call on employers not to slash staff training in a bid to cut costs as the recession bites."

Sir Reg continued: "Preserving the supply of apprentices is one way of doing this. A fundamental part of any apprenticeship is the work-based training and the assessment of competence in the real working environment. For those apprentices who unfortunately lose their positions, my department will work through Sector Skills Councils and Training Suppliers to get them new or foster employers.

"I have also requested that my department's Steps to Work provision will be extended to ensure apprentices over the age of 18 years will have access to provision, including continued training. Apprentices under the age of 18 years can join the department's Training for Success provision to continue training and technical study, which will provide opportunities for work placement and will pay an Education Maintenance Allowance of £40 per week.

"If the current economic downturn continues then the opportunities for work placement may get less. However, those on the pre-apprenticeship programmes will be able to remain in full-time training with simulated practical experience within the excellent facilities available at the colleges and training providers."

He also cited work with Seagate over the past year as an example of how his department tackles difficult and significant redundancies.

He said: "My officials have worked tirelessly and in partnership with a wide range of organisations to help the Seagate employees find future employment.

"Training needs analyses have been carried out and my department has organised Job Fairs for November 2008 and January 2009," he revealed.


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