2023 was a year marked by both challenges and resilience in Northern Ireland’s job market according to online hiring platform NIJobs.
Employers demonstrated a sustained commitment to hiring despite economic uncertainties. Ongoing skills shortages, high levels of employment and a record low in unemployment meant that jobseekers fared well in 2023 giving them more negotiating power with potential employers.
Despite a softening in recruitment levels, with job openings easing slowly back from post pandemic highs, many employment categories continued to perform well, with some, such as construction, experiencing record highs. In contrast, hiring challenges remain when it comes to plugging the skills gap that still exists here.
Looking ahead to 2024, NIJobs believes HR teams will need to streamline the recruitment process and work hard to enhance overall experiences with all age groups in order to attract and retain talent.
Sam Dooley – the Country Director of The Stepstone Group Ireland with responsibility for NIJobs says: “2023 has been an encouraging year for recruitment in Northern Ireland against a challenging economic backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis, inflation hikes, and increased operational and energy costs for businesses.
“We analysed our job data from the last twelve months to identify the most in-demand jobs. These are the jobs that have experienced high levels of postings over the course of the year. Knowledge about the most in-demand jobs will help to inform jobseekers in their search for roles and will also be of interest to employers as it will help them build realistic and achievable hiring timelines.
“Quantity surveyors, software engineers and electricians have consistently been the roles in demand this year. It’s clear that skilled workers in IT and construction are much sought after, reflecting the wider challenges businesses are facing in terms of skills shortages and getting the right candidates for their roles.”
In terms of the jobs that have grown in demand over the last twelve months, cargo agent roles in logistics, counsellors in healthcare and tour guide positions in the Northern Ireland tourism industry experienced the largest year-on-year increase and are a strong indicator of wider trends, according to data that has been compiled by NIJobs.
“These roles, which have seen considerable growth provide insight into what is happening at a societal and economic level. The continued demand for cargo agents would indicate that freight is exceptionally busy, but alongside that come the extra demands and paperwork that are required through the Windsor Framework around goods entering and leaving Northern Ireland.
“Counsellor roles have increased in the last year within the healthcare sector, which would suggest that there are growing concerns around mental health. Belfast City council recently announced the roll out of a survey around mental health accessibility. It states currently, Northern Ireland has the highest levels of mental health problems in the UK with only 40 per cent accessing effective support and 79 per cent not receiving the level of service they need.
“Finally, travel guide roles are becoming increasingly popular which tells us that there is investment in the tourism sector, aiming to position Northern Ireland as an attractive option to different visitor markets. This is also encouraging news for the local economy because demand and spend is clearly there from tourists.”
NIJobs, which is part of The Stepstone Group, have also offered some useful insight into key trends that are expected to affect Human Resources and wider recruitment approaches moving into the beginning of the new year and beyond.
Many major companies such as Accenture and IBM have removed degree requirements for roles, which has changed how employers hire. This approach is likely to gain further momentum in 2024, allowing employers to broaden talent pools and place a much greater emphasis on skills acquired. By investing in continuous development, this will narrow the gap in filling longstanding roles and enhance employer attractiveness.
Continued Relevance of Employee Experience
Providing a healthy office environment that boosts positive wellbeing is now commonplace for employers. There are indications to suggest some companies may scale back investment in employee experience due to wider budget constraints – but employers will need to strike a balance here as employer branding will remain critical in order to attract, and retain, the right candidates.
Managing An Age-Diverse Workforce
Fewer young people entering the workplace combined with people retiring later will come together to create a generational shift in the workplace. According to the most recent census data by 2028 there will be more people aged 65 and over than children living in NI. The workforce is poised to become more age-diverse, emphasising the need for collaboration among individuals in various life stages. In recognition of this, HR professionals will place an increased emphasis on fostering an age-friendly work environment, this will include a focus on cultivating lifelong learning opportunities, offering flexible retirement options, and providing comprehensive health, welfare, and retirement benefits.
Sam adds: “These trends tell us that recruitment is likely to become more competitive as employers work hard to address those challenges around filling roles. In an environment where budgets are increasingly stretched, it has never been more important to tap into broader and more diverse talent pools to attract, engage and retain talent to safeguard businesses and employees for the future.”