Tue 30th Aug 2016
Sept 2016: Effort needed to tackle widening skills shortage
NI Chamber’s Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) is an excellent method of gauging how members are reacting to issues and concerns that are impacting their businesses.
In the latest survey, which is produced in association with BDO, in addition to post-Brexit concerns, members yet again highlighted skills – or the lack of them – as an area which needs to be addressed if the Northern Ireland economy is to grow.
The survey revealed that almost two-thirds of businesses are experiencing recruitment difficulties across the manufacturing and services sectors while more than half of the respondents believe there to be a mismatch of skills to the workforce requirements and that is curtailing economic growth and recovery.
Worryingly, the skills issue is likely to become even more critical as a result of Brexit. The skills of existing EU workers are crucial to the success of businesses, and must be retained. This makes sense both for EU employees and their UK employers. Also businesses that are currently recruiting international labour need prompt information regarding labour movement plans.
With major skills shortages in industries such as construction, engineering and IT, EU workers provide the UK economy with vital skills which are simply in short supply among the indigenous workforce.
Then, there are the skills that high quality businesses who invest in Northern Ireland expect to find. They want qualified graduates who can slot into a high-end demanding role and we need to ensure that we can match the personnel needs of such companies with our labour supply. This is, therefore, not the time to be cutting back on investment in further and higher education.
In fact, the opposite is the case. We must ensure that investment in skills is prioritised and that the funding model for universities is reviewed.
Northern Ireland needs a skills mix, so that we can service the range of sectors and companies – indigenous and foreign, professional and trades based. This requires long term planning and a collaborative approach between FE colleges, universities, employers and government policy makers, both central and local. The relocation of political responsibility for further and higher education into the Department of the Economy is the right move and should help ensure a long term strategic emphasis on skills which marries education and the workforce.
Nick Coburn, President, NI Chamber