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First Online Skill Hub Goes Live

The UK’s first online skills hub,, went live following a successful pilot in Ballymena. Skill Exchange NI is the UK’s first ‘joined-up’ regional employer-to-employer network aimed at sharing skill and expertise through a Not for Profit programme. Employers of any size and sector, free of charge, can connect directly with a range of experienced professionals in a variety of local, regional and national industries and organisations.

The pilot, GES group

GES Group are a leading Electrical and Mechanical Engineering company based in NI, with four locations in Ballymena, Belfast, Antrim and Dublin. Established in 1972 as Grants Electrical Services Ltd, the company has grown and developed into GES Group serving customers throughout Ireland, the UK and Europe. As the company has grown developed and diversified, it has worked towards obtaining Investors in People Recognition and ISO Management Standards for its Health and Safety, Environmental and Quality Management Systems. Through their partnership with the Ballymena Skill Exchange Hub they have been successful in achieving these goals by connecting with other members, two of which, Michelin and Wrightbus, were able to provide the exact skills and experience needed to manage the project. Grants successfully completed the ISO administration with the help of one of Michelin’s corporate team, Paul Kinkead OBE, who worked with the Grant’s ISO project team over several months earlier this year.

Paul, Head of Environment and Protection for Michelin’s Ballymena factory, said: “We were delighted to be able to share our experience in setting up and developing ISO systems for quality and environment. “We worked with Rachel Doherty from GES to share our knowledge and expertise – both these ISO systems have been key to our progress here at Michelin for many years and are a great means of driving the business forward.” SQE Manager Rachel Doherty added: “The Skill Exchange is a fantastic business development and support tool. We have benefitted greatly by partnering with Michelin PLC and Wrightbus and continue to develop relationships made through the Exchange”.

Mandy Knowles, Wrights Group HR & Welfare Director said: “The Skill Exchange initiative is a really good business development mechanism. It has been particularly useful for benchmarking and networking with other Exchange supporters such as GES and Michelin. “The experience and knowledge available from the other supporters of the Exchange Hub has been beneficial to Wrightbus in the on-going development and growth of the business and we will continue to support the Ballymena Skill Exchange Hub.”

The launch

Speaking at the launch event, Employment Minister Stephen Farry said: “This initiative will help to retain and develop our highly valuable skilled workers. This is better for both local companies and individuals, as staff can be placed into meaningful alternative work instead of facing unemployment.” The service is being rolled out across five regional hubs centred in Belfast, Ballymena, Craigavon and Derry/Londonderry.


Funders include Dunbia, Harland & Wolff, JTI, Michelin, Moy Park, Northern Regional College, Ulster Bank and Wright Bus. Robert Cooper, Harland and Wolff Chief Executive Officer, said: “Skill Exchange NI is an excellent way for companies to balance the peaks and troughs of demand without losing vital skills. It is a win-win for both employer and employee.” Philip Flaxton, Chief Executive of Skill Exchange UK, said employers stood to  benefit from a wide range of activities such as knowledge sharing, skill development and retention, role placement, work experience, resource sharing, training and business mentoring. “Skill Exchange NI, which we now plan to replicate throughout the UK, provides a regional strategy which allows the entire employer community an extended umbrella under which to access opportunities without location barriers,” he said. Andy Mills, Regional Director, Business Banking at Ulster Bank, said: “Skill Exchange is an important programme that will help create greater flexibility and more opportunities for employees. Ulster Bank is committed to supporting business growth and this initiative offers the potential for employers to respond effectively to new avenues of business development.”

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