Belfast firm receives £40k to help COVID-19 business recovery through apprenticeships

  • Photo: Richard Kirk, CEO and founder of Workplus

    Belfast-based Workplus has been awarded a £40,000 grant from Innovate UK’s Fast Start Competition to help businesses adapting to COVID-19 develop talent through apprenticeships.

    The funding is part of a £40m government investment through Research and Innovation UK for start-ups to drive forward new and required technological advances following the pandemic.

    Over 8,600 companies applied for the funding with around 10% receiving investment from the non-departmental public innovation agency.

    The funding will be used to help businesses explore apprenticeships as a way of finding new talent or upskilling existing employees.

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    It will also allow Workplus to invest in its platform and support a recruitment campaign in January 2021 to help employers across the UK and Ireland find new apprentices.

    Workplus brings together employers, potential apprentices, colleges and universities to create apprenticeship opportunities and is supported by professional bodies.

    Richard Kirk, CEO and founder of Workplus said: “Apprenticeships are the best way for businesses to find and develop new talent and they are vital to our economic recovery in the medium to long term. They are good news for employers, the economy, young people and those who want to re-train from unemployment.

    “The companies we work with have found that apprentices are three times more likely to stay than employees joining through other routes.

    “Apprenticeships are now available in areas including civil engineering, IT, fintech, marketing, sales, customer service, accounting and life sciences. Businesses have a crucial part to play in working with government to develop new apprenticeship pathways to meet industry needs."

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    Earlier this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnston announced that all young people in Britain would be guaranteed an apprenticeship as he warned that “many, many job losses” would be inevitable.

    Mr Kirk welcomed the commitment but warned that apprenticeships shouldn’t be seen as a quick-fix solution to curb youth unemployment.

    Just last week, Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre predicted that the economic damage of the coronavirus crisis will hit young workers hardest, and youth unemployment could jump from 8% to 26% by the end of 2020, with apprentices usually arising from this age group.

    Mr Kirk added that because of this, “government must invest further in an apprenticeship approach" and continued: “Countries with an apprenticeship culture, like Germany, experience the lowest levels of youth unemployment.

    “However, apprenticeships are about quality of learning, fresh thinking and innovation for both the employer and the apprentice, rather than creating huge amounts of temporary solutions which won’t equip young people with the skills and education they need to pursue a career and become the business leaders of the future.”

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    Executive Chair of Innovate UK, Dr Ian Campbell, said: “Businesses from all over the UK have answered our call rapidly to meet the challenges we face today and in the future through the power of innovation.

    "The ideas we have seen can truly make a significant impact on society, improve the lives of individuals, especially those in vulnerable groups and enable businesses to prosper in challenging circumstances.”

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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