From education to employment

76% of NI firms lack confidence they can fill highly skilled roles

Northern Ireland results from the latest CBI/Pearson education and skills survey were presented to an audience at Belfast Metropolitan College.

The latest edition of the annual CBI education and skills survey has revealed several concerning trends for the Northern Irish economy, with members lacking confidence they can fill roles at all skill levels.

Nearly 83% of CBI NI members anticipate an increased need for highly skilled workers over the next 3-5 years. However, 76% are not confident there will be sufficient people available in the future to fill high skilled roles. An already acute skills shortage in Northern Ireland is set to be further exacerbated.

Other survey findings included:

  • Aptitude and readiness for work is a higher priority for employers than academic qualifications when recruiting school, college and university leavers
  • Employers view the promotion of STEM subjects, awareness of career options, and IT & digital skills as the top three priority areas for action in secondary schools
  • 92% want to play a greater role in supporting schools/colleges
  • 65% are experiencing, or are anticipating, difficulty recruiting individuals for apprenticeships

Demographic pressures, a growing ‘brain drain’ of talent, plus a reliance on EU migrant labour create a unique set of regional skills challenges. Employers need help from government to ensure they have the people – with the right skills – they need to support economic prosperity and vital public services.

Other parts of the UK recognise the challenge and are investing heavily in skills reform. Businesses are keen to seize the initiative on making Northern Ireland a more attractive place to live, work and do business. However, the absence of an Executive acts as a permanent handbrake on reform.

The full findings from the Northern Ireland cut of the education and skills survey were presented this morning to an audience of local businesses and stakeholders at Belfast Metropolitan College.

Speaking at the event, Sam Davidson, Group HR Director, Henderson Group and Chair, CBI NI People & Skills Forum, commented:

“CBI members are rightly worried about the availability of skills – at all levels – now and in the future. Our competitors are investing in developing the skills of the future, we must do the same, otherwise Northern Ireland looks set to miss out on the people we need to transform our economy.

“The top priorities for employers include a greater investment in Higher & Further Education, a revamped school curriculum that prioritises employability skills & STEM subjects, and a new Flexible Skills Fund which allow firms to use Apprenticeship Levy funds to address their bespoke skills needs.

“Every day without an Executive is an opportunity lost to address our skills challenges. We need to stop kicking the can down the road.”

Taking part in a panel Q&A session, Noel Lavery, Permanent Secretary, Department for the Economy, commented:

“Skills are central to the growth of the Northern Ireland economy. Building on the skills and strengths of our people will help deliver the twin goals of higher productivity and competitiveness. It will also contribute to greater social inclusion.

“We have started a formal engagement with key stakeholders to develop a new framework that will set an ambitious vision for our education and skills system to 2030 and beyond.

“The Department for the Economy’s responsibility for the outcomes from our skills system requires widespread and genuine collaboration if we are to develop and implement skills policies which meet the needs of business.

“Engaging with young people at an early stage has significant benefits in raising their aspirations and giving them a sense of what the world of work is like. Your commitment is of real value to the development of the future workforce.”


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