Employers in Northern Ireland invest the least in training per employee out of all four UK nations, according to new analysis from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

The CIPD research report, Devolution and evolution in UK skills policy: Finding common ground across the four nations, explores skills policy of the four UK nations, with a particular focus on UK apprenticeship systems and their outcomes. It shows that the average number of days spent training per trainee (5.8)*, and the percentage of establishments that have funded any training for staff over the past 12 months (58%)**, are also lowest in Northern Ireland.

Showing there is considerable scope to expand the system, the report also finds that Northern Ireland has the lowest rate of apprenticeship participation per thousand people in employment (14%)*** out of all four UK nations.

The CIPD is calling on Northern Irish policy makers to expand flexible skills funding for employers and employees and improve business support services for SMEs, particularly on HR and people management.

The research further highlights that while there have been improvements in the last three years, these have failed to make up for the declines over the last decade:

  • Investment in training per employee in Northern Ireland has declined by 21% since 2011.
  • UK investment in training per employee now stands at around half that of the EU average.
  • 58% of Northern Irish employers provided some sort of training in the last 12 months – a drop from 65% in 2011.

The fall in employer investment in training has occurred despite the number of skills shortage vacancies more than doubling in Northern Ireland in recent years, from 5,372 in 2019 to 13,651 in 2022.

Marek Zemanik, senior public policy adviser (Scotland and Northern Ireland) at the CIPD, said:

“Skills and labour shortages continue to be a real problem across Northern Ireland and all sectors of the economy, and we need to get apprenticeships and vocational education right if we’re to tackle these challenges.”

“There is real scope to expand the apprenticeship system in Northern Ireland to provide young people with in-depth quality training in a workplace setting. Policy makers, however, must ensure that all-age apprenticeships don’t result in a crowding out of young people’s opportunities, as has been the case in other parts of the UK.

“Employers must step up too. Investment in training and development is critical in addressing skill gaps and improving workplace productivity, but despite some improvements over the last three years, we are still behind the other three nations of the UK as well as compared to where we were a decade ago.”

To address skills shortages and boost employer training, the CIPD has set out a range of recommendations for Northern Irish policy makers, including:

  • Introduce ringfenced funding for Apprenticeship Levy-payers and put SkillUP on a permanent footing to provide a broader range of skills development opportunities for employers and employees.
  • Develop interventions to boost management capability and increase understanding of skills needs and development opportunities in small firms. For example, the CIPD’s People Skills model.
  • Refocus the scope of apprenticeship policy to include a discussion on direct financial incentives, alongside a focus on funding off-the-job training costs. For small business in particular, apprentice hiring incentives can make a difference.
  • Introduce fast-track routes to apprenticeship qualifications for adults with existing workplace skills.
  • Well-resourced and comprehensive careers services need to be a priority, with a focus on impartial advice on the breadth of vocational and academic pathways.
  • Close the gap in UK-wide employer advice on how to navigate skills development, in organisations that operate cross-nationally.

Marek continued:

“Despite the importance of SMEs to Northern Ireland’s economy, there are still major barriers in their engagement with the current skills system, including its complexity, lack of resources, and poor people management capability. Good quality advisory and business support services, aimed at boosting management capability and increasing understanding of skills development, are key to engaging small businesses.”

Read the report


Notes to editors

  • Investment in training per employee: England (£1,788), Scotland (£1,684), Wales (£1,828), Northern Ireland (£1,673) 
  • *Training intensity (days per trainee): England (5.9), Scotland (6.7), Wales (6.8), Northern Ireland (5.8) 
  • **Percentage of establishments that have funded or arranged any training for staff over the past 12 months: England (60%), Scotland (64%), Wales (60%), Northern Ireland (58%)  
  • All figures above based on CIPD analysis of the UK Government’s latest Employer Skills Survey (ESS): https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/employer-skills-survey/2022    
  • ***Apprenticeship participation rate per 1,000 in employment,16–64 years old: England (27%), Scotland (15%), Wales (29%), Northern Ireland (14%). CIPD analysis of Labour Force Survey/ONS and administrative data from UK Department for Education, Skills Development Scotland, Welsh Government and NI DfE.  

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