Deputy First Minister Launches Ulster University Partnership with MEGA to Provide Skills Pipeline to Ready NI for Industry 4.0

11 October 2021

Deputy First Minister Launches Ulster University Partnership with MEGA to Provide Skills Pipeline to Ready NI for Industry 4.0 Pictured at the launch of the MEGA Degree Apprenticeship with Ulster University (l-r) are James Donaghy, student apprentice, Darragh Cullen, Chair of MEGA, Sean Monan, student apprentice, Michelle O’Neill, Deputy First Minister, Professor Brian Meenan, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment, Ulster University.

Ulster University is partnering with Manufacturing & Engineering Growth & Advancement (MEGA) to provide Northern Ireland’s first degree level apprenticeship in Manufacturing & Engineering.

This first of its kind course, funded by the Department for the Economy, has just begun and represents a new chapter in higher education for the Magee Campus.

This dynamic new offering is designed to help create a pipeline of skilled talent fit for industry’s needs now and into the future, ensuring Northern Ireland is in a position to maximise the opportunities presented by the fourth industrial revolution.

The innovative programme presents an alternative to the traditional degree route – and instead will see apprentices employed from day one. This means participants incur no cost in their higher level education; in fact, they earn a salary.

At an event in the Great Hall of the Magee campus on Friday afternoon, Deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill, officially launched the programme and met some of the first cohort of apprentices, commenting:

“The MEGA apprenticeship degree is a ground-breaking programme that will be transformative for our manufacturing and engineering industry. It will support the sector to develop, drive economic growth, and provide opportunities for people to develop much sought-after skills.

“This partnership between Ulster University and MEGA is exactly the sort of innovative approach that will help to harness the enormous economic potential of our digital and engineering capabilities. We are already a global player in these sectors and this programme will no doubt help to cement our place as a world leader.

“I’m particularly pleased at the regional benefits that this programme will deliver in Mid-Ulster and the north west. And I believe that this pioneering model will be a game-changer in providing access to no-cost higher level education.”

First Minister Paul Givan said:

“I want to commend Ulster University and MEGA on the launch of such an innovative degree apprenticeship in manufacturing and engineering.

“These higher level apprenticeships offer an alternative route for participants to gain a third level qualification and play a key role in creating an effective and sustainable pipeline for skills development in the local workforce.

“This collaborative approach will equip students with highly sought-after and employable skills and in doing so will provide the skilled talent fit for the industry’s needs.

“We can be rightfully proud of Northern Ireland’s manufacturing and engineering industry and this dynamic new offering will ensure the sector continues to thrive and embrace any future challenges, maintaining our presence on the global stage.”

Industry 4.0 skills such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and digitalization, will be amongst the key themes studied within the new programme offered by the School of Computing, Engineering and Intelligent Systems at Magee.

By undertaking this mechanical and manufacturing degree, students will learn key skills and apply theory to practice in the work environment, thereby making an instant impact within their workplace, whilst building a solid foundation for future career prospects.

One such student is Conor Brattin who completed his A Levels at Oakgrove Integrated College and is a Robotics apprentice at Nugent Engineering as part of the MEGA Degree Apprenticeship. He said:

“Working at Nugent Engineering in Dungannon, I’ve started to learn about building robot cells and automation and it is really interesting. I’m looking forward to what the future holds and to studying at the School of Computing, Engineering and Intelligent Systems at Magee.”

Another student, Sarah Millar from Ballygawley and a former student of St. Ciaran’s College, Ballygawley added:

“With the MEGA degree apprenticeship, I see this as a fantastic opportunity to invest in my future. I will be studying robotics and automation at Ulster University. These areas are a big focus in the years ahead in this region and globally so it is great to specialise in this right from the start of my career. I’m excited to get a chance to be involved in innovation with MEGA, Ulster University and the industry leaders who are investing in young people like me. I’m excited for what the future holds.”

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said:

“I am very pleased that Ulster University is partnering with MEGA to offer this innovative Higher Level Apprenticeship opportunity, funded by my Department. The course will offer participants a high-quality learning experience while they also gain valuable, relevant work experience and earn while they learn. Upon completion they will be very strongly placed for progression within an exciting career in manufacturing and engineering. This sector is seeing significant demand for skilled people. I urge anyone who is interested and eligible to consider applying for this course of learning with Ulster University at Magee, in partnership with MEGA.”

MEGA is supported by Invest Northern Ireland through its Collaborative Growth Programme, in partnership with Mid Ulster District Council.

By engaging with the MEGA Apprenticeship model, industry is also directly tapping into Ulster University’s research capability. Apprentices who train the Magee campus of Ulster will benefit from access to Centres of Excellence such as the Centre for Industrial Digitalisation, Robotics and Automation (CIDRA) and the Cognitive Analytics Research Laboratory (CARL) that are being developed as part of the emerging Derry and Strabane City Deal and which will become a destination for Research and Development for our industry partners.

Professor Brian Meenan, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment, Ulster University said:

“We are delighted to work in partnership with industry, to put this new skills escalator in place to support industry in their innovation journey by offering the first and only Manufacturing & Engineering Higher Level Degree Apprenticeship programme on the island of Ireland. The apprentices are embarking on an exciting new chapter as they apply their skills within an industrial setting in real-time.

“This new innovative offering from Ulster University’s Magee campus is connected to the region’s future ambitions for the Derry and Strabane City Deal. The Ulster University CIDRA and CARL innovation projects will become an important destination for these apprentices and the companies they work for in the years ahead.”

Maria Curran, Project Director at MEGA added:

“Our industry network is immensely proud to have been central in the development of this new Apprenticeship with Ulster University that is essential in securing our sectors’ success for the good of Northern Ireland's economy. Without it, the sector will be unable to compete globally and jobs will be lost in the future when manufacturing is relocated elsewhere.

“Thanks to essential funding support from the Department of Economy, this programme is a chance for industry to embrace the future of Manufacturing & Engineering and we encourage companies from across Northern Ireland to apply to be part of this momentous step forward in adapting to the digital era.”

Applications have just opened for the 2022/23 course this week and will close on 31st January 2022. A virtual Open Evening will be held on 4th November, register here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/mega-amp-ulster-university-34724672023. Those interested in applying should send their CV (including GCSE Mathematics grade and predicted results) to degreeapprenticeship@midulstermega.com.

This is the latest innovative offering from the Magee-based School of Computing, Engineering and Intelligent Systems which recently launched an industry focused Masters in Smart Manufacturing Systems which will equip people in the five core technologies that are essential to raise the development of manufacturing and productivity to the levels required in the next 50 years which are: Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, automation, internet of things (IoT) and industrial digital technologies (IDTs).

The Collaborative Growth Programme is aimed at SME-led networks and provides support for groups to pursue innovative collaborative projects with the potential to increase business competitiveness.

To find out more about the MEGA Higher Degree Level Apprenticeship Programme and its link to the City Deal ambitions for the region, visit: School of Computing, Engineering & Intelligent Systems at Magee - YouTube and Degree Apprenticeship - Mid Ulster Mega


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