Guide

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.

Employer Support Programme - InnovateUs

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. The programme offers between 15 and 60 hours of bespoke training and skills development support, normally delivered over a six month period.

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

Contact a FE college for further information.

Skills Focus

Skills Focus, a strand of the Employer Support Programme, 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 less 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, 300K).

To find out more about some local businesses who have already successfully used Skills Focus and InnovateUs training and how your business could benefit from the programmes, have a look at this video:


Watch videos of individual businesses that have benefitted from the Employer Support Programme on the Department for the Economy YouTube channel.

Connected

Connected is an initiative between the six Further Education colleges, Queen’s University Belfast and the Ulster University 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 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.

FUSION

Product development and innovation is at the heart of growth but often needs costly technology support. FUSION can provide that support by helping to fund a high calibre science, engineering or technology graduate work in the business alongside a third level institution with specific expertise.

FUSION can help businesses to develop new and innovative products, improve existing products, streamline production processes, implement quality systems, improve environmental performance, enhance design capabilities and develop and implement IT solutions. 

If interested, the team will work to discuss specific innovation needs and identify potential university or college partners with the expertise that you require.  As FUSION is an all-island programme, the third-level institution which you are partnered with must be based in the opposite jurisdiction to your business.

Funding Available

  • 18 month support package - worth up to £44,250/€58,700 typically in the area of new product/service development
  • 12 month support project - worth £31,000/€41,100 typically in the area of process improvement

Read more on FUSION.

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

The six regional colleges are part of DfE’s Assured Skills tailored training programme to help employers find staff with the skills they need or support to develop the necessary expertise within their existing team. The assistance is available to businesses in Northern Ireland wanting to expand, and inward investors planning to locate their business in Northern Ireland.

To date a range of programmes have been delivered by the FE sector to address the skills needs of inwardly investing or expanding businesses.

These include:

  • ICT Software Testers Academy (South Eastern Regional College (SERC) / Belfast Met)
  • Data Analytics Academy and Cloud Academy (Belfast Met)
  • Automotive Panel Building Academy (SWC)
  • Software Professionals Academy (planned by Belfast Met, Southern Regional College (SRC), North West Regional College (NWRC) and SERC)
  • RLC CNC Academy ( Northern Regional College)
  • SDC Welding Academy ( Northern Regional College)
  • Gaming Development Academy (Northern Regional College)

See Assured Skills: delivering skilled employees through bespoke 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.

Apprentices can be aged 16-24 (over 25 apprenticeships available in priority skills areas) and are employed from Day 1 for a minimum of 21 hours per week within a Northern Ireland based company.

Higher Level Apprenticeships are available in areas such as Accountancy, Digital Marketing, Applied Industrial Sciences and Engineering. Future HLA’s include ICT, Digital Marketing, Computing Infrastructure and Software Engineering, Building Services and Renewable Energies, with many more to come.

See Apprenticeships: providing 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.

Entry to Management Programme

The Entry to Management Programme is designed to speed the development of graduate managers to help them become more productive within their organisations.

The programme, delivered over 24 weeks by South Eastern Regional College, aims to provide good well-qualified managers who can make a lasting contribution to the increased productivity of a business.

Read more about this programme and other leadership and management training in Northern Ireland.