FIT NI officially launched in Belfast

As I may have mentioned in the past, part of my remit for Microsoft in Northern Ireland is to assist my Manager, Peter Russell , in delivering Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)Programs in Northern Ireland. One such initiative is Fastrack to IT (FIT NI). It was officially launched this morning in the Belfast Harbour Commissioner’s offices. Rather than re-write what’s already been covered, I’ll just copy in the release from the Microsoft Ireland Blogsite:

Fastrack to IT (FIT) expands into Northern Ireland with model which helped 6,000 Irish people access employment

Initiative launched for Northern Irish businesses to access candidates with ICT skills

Belfast: 4th June 2008 – Based on the model established in Ireland to provide unemployed people with ICT skills to access employment, FIT NI (Fastrack to Information Technology Northern Ireland) has launched a new industry initiative providing ready access to candidates with in-demand ICT skills in Belfast today.

Aimed at helping those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to upskill to new levels and access high calibre ICT jobs, FIT NI is based on the Irish model which was established nine years ago. The Irish initiative has a 64% success rate of progressing its participants with private sector employers.

Supported by major indigenous and international companies, FIT NI – is a unique private sector response to labour shortages of ICT skills across all industry sectors.

Launching the event, Billy McClean, FIT NI’s Northern Ireland Programme Manager, said:

“As the recent US NI Conference demonstrated, interest in Northern Ireland as an investment location has never been higher, despite the global uncertainty sparked by the credit crunch and rising energy prices. But is the local workforce fit for purpose?

“Overseas investors will only locate in Northern Ireland if we can maintain a healthy flow of employees with key skills such as ICT. There are already worrying signs though that the local ICT labour market is beginning to overheat, despite the fact that at 27.5% Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of economic inactivity in Europe.

“Given that employers are finding it increasingly hard to find ICT literate employees while there’s a ready supply of untapped talent which has difficulty accessing job opportunities, FIT NI believes that it provides a solution which can tackle social marginalisation whilst also improving Northern Ireland’s competitiveness.”

Also speaking at the event was Fiona Mullan, Microsoft’s Ireland’s Director of HR: “In just nine years FIT has provided over 6,000 Irish people with the technical and software skills they needed to access employment opportunities in the Celtic Tiger’s burgeoning ICT sector. Now that Northern Ireland is beginning to reap the benefits of a stable political environment it’s vital that it has the people available to take advantage of any uplift in employment opportunities. Northern Ireland has a rare window of opportunity to sell itself on the world stage – it would be tragic if potential investments were lost due to artificial shortages in the labour market caused by a failure to engage effectively with those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.”

FIT NI has already run a number of pilot programmes in the Belfast area in collaboration with local training providers and community organisations. Over 250 people have completed the process with a significant number progressing into employment or further education. FIT NI now has plans to launch similar programmes throughout Northern Ireland and is looking to work closely with private sector partners and local training providers.

Roy Adair, CEO of the Port of Belfast, one of FIT NI’s local supporters, said: “FIT NI is a great example of how businesses can help society at large while at the same time improving the economic conditions in which they operate. These are exciting times for Northern Ireland, but we want to ensure that as many people as possible can access the new economic opportunities which the future holds. I’ve heard it said that if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. That’s exactly what FIT is and I encourage other businesses across Northern Ireland to get involved and support the scheme.”

FIT partners across Ireland include firms such as AIB, Alchemy, AOL, Belfast Trust, CSC, Danone, Dell, Eircom, BT, Halifax, HP, IBEC, IBM, Kainos, Liberty, Lionbridge Technology, Allstate Northern Ireland, Microsoft, MyHoliday.ie, Oracle, Siemens, Skillsoft, Symantec, Uniphar, Origin Enterprises and Welocalise.

Find out more about FITNI at: http://www.fitni.org.uk/

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