A higher skills ambition for Northern Ireland

Skills for growth and social inclusion

Learning and skills are central to economic growth and social inclusion. This report, commissioned by OCN NI, projects Northern Ireland’s skills base through to 2030 and compares this to a number of OECD countries.

The report shows that on current trends Northern Ireland will continue to lag many other countries on a number of measures of learning and skills in 2030. These shortfalls can be particularly seen in basic skills like literacy and numeracy, higher education, and the proportion of people qualified to at least level 2.

This would hold back both economic growth and social inclusion. The report argues for Northern Ireland to set a higher ambition for skills, benchmarked against other countries. It makes recommendations for delivering this in practice, including building learning into other policy areas like health and developing clear learning pathways.

This report makes the case for a higher ambition to address these skill deficits and improve Northern Ireland’s prospects into 2030. Five policy recommendations are made in order to achieve this aim:

  1. Build in learning across policy areas. A stronger learning culture supports social inclusion and economic growth but also has broader policy consequences for Northern Ireland such as supporting improvements in health, wellbeing and social cohesion. Thought should be given as to how learning can be built into wider policy areas, and to how Northern Ireland can become a learning society.
  2. Northern Ireland should set a higher ambition. There is a clear case for a higher ambition to accelerate Northern Ireland’s progress in skills development by 2030. The Programme for Government should set out measures to address Northern Ireland’s relative skills gap with the UK, Republic of Ireland and OECD comparators. The focus should be on progression from low to intermediate skill levels and supporting the development of higher skills.
  3. There should be greater investment in learning and skills. Improvements can only be delivered if investment rises. That investment needs to come from a mix of stakeholders including government, employers and individuals, with a clear balance of responsibilities.
  4. Promote a partnership approach. Collaborative policy development and implementation across a range of stakeholders is crucial for delivering improvements in learning and skills. Partnership working should include government, local authorities, employers, the learning and skills sector and civil society; cross-community and cross-border partnerships are also important.
  5. Monitor progress. Independent reports should be regularly commissioned to keep track of progress and to monitor Northern Ireland’s relative skills development when compared to the wider UK, Republic of Ireland and other international comparators.

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