Further education training opportunities for your business

Further education: skills development programmes


There are a range of further education (FE) skills development programmes on offer.


InnovateUs is a skills development programme, funded by the Department for the Economy and delivered across Northern Ireland by the six FE colleges.

The programme is designed to encourage and promote opportunities for small businesses and FE colleges to work together. In particular, the focus of the programme is to enable small businesses, with fewer than 50 employees, to acquire the skills necessary to engage in innovation activities. Businesses can avail of up to 60 hours of mentoring support from a college expert to work on a project aimed at developing a new or modified product, process or service in a wide range of sectors.

By gaining these skills, small businesses can then exploit innovative opportunities or undertake additional forms of innovation, which will contribute to growth and development.

Skills Focus

Skills Focus is a skills development programme funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE) and delivered across Northern Ireland by the six FE colleges.

Skills Focus aims to support, promote and facilitate collaborative working between business and FE colleges, in order to provide tailored skills provision to small to medium enterprises with fewer than 250 employees. The purpose of Skills Focus is to meet business needs by increasing the skills levels and employability of the existing workforce to qualification level 2 and above.

Download further information on InnovateUs and Skills Focus (PDF, 327K).

Watch videos of individual businesses that have benefitted from Skills Focus or InnovateUs on the Department for the Economy YouTube channel.


Connected is an initiative between the six Further Education colleges, Queen's University Belfast, the Ulster University and the Open University in Northern Ireland to help businesses and the wider community to improve their performance by providing access to a broad portfolio of knowledge and technology support services.

Connected makes available academic expertise and resources that can bring measurable benefits to a business. It aims to develop interaction and stimulate innovation to benefit local companies and the Northern Ireland economy by encouraging, easing and increasing potential knowledge exchange links between academia and industry, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises.

Read more about Connected.

Innovation Vouchers

Innovation Vouchers provide up to £5,000 of funding support for small to medium-sized businesses in Northern Ireland to help them to innovate, develop and grow. Funded by Invest Northern Ireland, the Innovation Voucher enables companies to seek knowledge and expertise from colleges and universities.

Typical projects include:

  • ideas for new or improved products, processes and services
  • product and service testing
  • access to information and expertise on new materials
  • tapping into research and scientific expertise

Read more on Innovation Vouchers.

Innovation Boost

Product development and innovation is at the heart of growth but often needs costly technology support. Previously known as Fusion, Innovation Boost can provide that support by helping to fund a high calibre science, engineering or technology graduate and partnering you with a third level institution with specific expertise.

The graduate is employed by you and is based in your company throughout the project (12 – 18 months) with mentoring from the academic partner and InterTradeIreland Innovation Boost consultant.

Funding available

  • 18-month support package - worth up to £56,000/€67,900 typically in the area of new product/service development
  • 12-month support project - worth £39,000/€47,400 typically in the area of process improvement

Read more on Innovation Boost.

Foundation degrees

Foundation degrees are higher education qualifications mainly delivered in local colleges which combine academic and work-related learning.

See Foundation degrees: providing higher education qualifications to improve employees' skills.

Assured Skills

Find out more about Assured Skills: delivering skilled employees through pre-employment training programmes.

Higher Level Apprenticeships

A Higher Level Apprenticeship (HLA) is a workplace training programme which includes a combination of on and off the job training. The HLA programme currently offers qualifications from Level 4 up to Level 7, with FE colleges mainly delivering at Levels 4 and 5. The majority of approved HLAs are at Level 5 (Foundation Degree) with some offering Level 6 (Honours Degree) and Level 7 (Master's Degree). HLAs may be available in the future at Level 8 (Post Graduate Award).

This is an all-age programme, with the apprentice in employment from the first day, and off the job training provided through the six local FE colleges, CAFRE or the three local universities.

Higher Level Apprenticeships are available in areas such as accountancy, digital marketing, applied industrial sciences, engineering, computing infrastructure, software engineering, building services, renewable energies, food and drink manufacture with many more to come.

See Apprenticeships: delivering work-based training and qualifications to employees.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

The Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) scheme helps businesses to innovate and grow. It does this by linking them with a university and a graduate to work on a specific project.

Each KTP is a three-way partnership between a business, an academic institution and a graduate. The academic institution employs the recently-qualified graduate who works at the company. The graduate, known as the 'associate', brings new skills and knowledge to the business.

A KTP can last between 12 and 36 months depending on the project and the needs of the business. It is part-funded by a grant. The amount businesses need to contribute is different for SMEs and larger companies.


ApprenticeshipsNI is a workplace training programme which includes a combination of on and off the job training. The ApprenticeshipsNI programme offers vocational qualifications at Level 2 and Level 3, and is delivered by all FE colleges and a network of non-statutory training contractors.

The apprentice is in employment from the first day on the programme, which is open to new employees, or those moving to a new job role. All ApprenticeshipsNI frameworks are open to those aged 16-24, with a number of frameworks in priority economic areas also available to all ages. Off the job training is provided through the six local FE colleges or a non-statutory training contractor.

Apprenticeships are available in a wide range of occupational areas such as electrotechnical, food and drink manufacturing, engineering, hospitality, plumbing, health and social care, construction and many more.

See Apprenticeships: delivering work-based training and qualifications to employees.