The current skills shortage in Northern Ireland is a long-term problem and is likely to require a long-term solution. However the density of skills shortages varies across the UK, being most acute in Scotland, where 25% of vacancies are caused by skills shortages, but less of a problem here in Northern Ireland, where they account for 19% of vacancies.
Machinery and equipment manufacturing, food processing, textile and electronics manufacturing are all leading industries in Northern Ireland – and it is therefore imperative to sustain a competent flourishing workforce. Engineering is the largest manufacturing sub-sector in Northern Ireland, especially in the fields of aerospace and heavy machinery.
The Government, industries, schools, colleges and universities need to consider methods to develop and attract students to train and become successfully skilful in a trade in order to accommodate the current huge deficit of skilled workers throughout the whole of the UK and also globally.
Job vacancies have increased in areas such as oil and gas, energy and IT but in order to fill these jobs we presently have to consider employees from other countries.
Universities in Northern Ireland are currently not producing anything like the number of design engineers in electrical, mechanical and electronic sectors that industry requires. Manufacturing needs products, products need design engineers; it is simply a catch 22 situation, if we do not produce design engineers then we cannot build a manufacturing base.
Also Belfast is one of the best cities in the UK to get a job in the information and computer technology (ICT) sector - however the skills shortage is hampering the ability of companies to expand.
As a recruitment agency we understand that every organisation needs a constant supply of candidates with the necessary skills because this is the foundation of business success and we appreciate that it is the educational policies, not economic conditions, which is the essential element of confronting our present local and global talent mismatch.
Therefore representatives of companies, together with colleges and universities, should strategically consider methods of attracting students into their industry by creating incentive and lucrative offers to influence an increased steady input of talented individuals.
Investment is the key factor because productivity is going to be severely affected if we do not address the issue of ‘rebalance’, for instance, far too many students are choosing not to study for engineering courses, or alternatively, gain a degree in engineering but are then opting for another career other than engineering.
Train to Gain
In the second quarter of 2013, 1.1 million 16-24 year olds in the UK were not in education, employment or training. Businesses must recognise that young people are the country’s future, as a recruitment agency we cannot over state the value of apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are a proven and accepted process of coping with current and future workforce matters.
While youth unemployment in the UK as a whole stands at just under 20%, in Northern Ireland 23% of people aged 18-24 are unemployed.
Also between January 2013 and January 2014 the number of people (Northern Ireland) who had been claiming jobseekers’ allowance for more than a year had increased by 2,000 to 19,560 this figure is the highest it has been in almost 15 years.
However, all is not bleak, for instance the Belfast Telegraph recently launched its 50 Jobs in 50 Days Campaign with the purpose of getting 50 pledges from local companies by 1st May 2014, to recruit apprentices; this has received the backing of the Duke of York.
Organisations with good employer branding can effortlessly magnetise an abundance of candidates which will guarantee the future accomplishments of their company simply by maintaining an active talent pool and productive workforce.
Just by tapping into the huge numbers of unemployed young people, a company is not only providing jobs but will be allowing those young people to present fresh ideas, vision and inspiration which are the necessities of every organisation.
It is only by accepting current skill shortages together with youth unemployment that the government and industries will create a long-term policy in order to ensure global healthy competition, because, for example, by the time today’s primary school children are capable of work the UK will then need over two million additional engineers and if these cannot be filled there will be devastating consequences for the UK economy, as engineering is central to future economic growth.
It is therefore more than appropriate to look locally, appreciate community talent, nurture a skilful neighbouring workforce and establish a district of young flourishing talent adequately equipped to meet increasing demands, because it is extremely apparent that skill shortages weaken and jeopardise productivity as well as decrease competitiveness and overall demoralise a workforce.
Northern Ireland is proud of its traditional industrial economy being most famous for shipbuilding, manufacturing industry and textiles; however most heavy industry has now been replaced by services. As with all developed economies, services account for the majority of employment and output. Services account for almost 70% of economic output, and 78% of employees.
Now is the time for companies to get more involved with local schools, working colleges and recruitment agencies, as skill shortages is a problem that is going to require a long-term process and companies cannot rely on someone else sorting out the problem, it is a matter which must be addressed collectively. For example, one of the main issues which prevent students from considering engineering as a career is the complete misconception that STEM subjects are boring and will not lead to a lucrative and prosperous career. Our research tells us that 49% of 7-11 years olds believe that being an engineer would be a boring job.
Therefore this problem has to be tackled by marketing engineering as an interesting and creative profession and this must be demonstrated by firms targeting recruits at an early age, i.e. going into primary schools showing films and explaining the role of an engineer and of course expressing the many jobs available to engineers.
All companies need to assess their current and future training requirements
Technical progress has increased the demand for the typical skilled worker because as technology becomes more integrated at all levels, more technical training is required and jobs are therefore becoming harder to fill especially in companies who use the most advanced technology in their production process.
Companies need to invest and train their staff in order to ensure the continuous productivity of their business because it is not just about current skills; there is a necessity to keep on top of the ever increasing development of technology alongside education.
Maintenance technicians, instrumentation technicians and also forklift truck drivers are becoming harder to find, for example a forklift driver has to now read and operate particular advanced inventory systems; it is not just simply about moving and transferring goods.
As a recruitment agency we would advise companies to increase their internships, and to be open to recruiting staff and then offering specialised training as this will become more important for companies that require specific skills and technical knowledge. Now is the time for organisations to become more actively involved with recruitment agencies and universities in order to create courses and syllabuses to accommodate the future needs of industry.
Organisations should adopt a flexible approach and consider establishing good relationships with their local recruitment agencies, colleges and universities; it is basically a case of pinpointing enthusiastic workers and providing the necessary training.
Our research at Premiere People shows us that the age of the UK population is calculated to increase by 2020, but 36% of the working population will be over the age of 50 and the number of people over the age of 90 will have tripled by 2035. Companies need to act now and should develop strategies to allow the mature worker to offer coaching and training to younger staff thereby giving them first-hand experience in order to guarantee future skills, as well as productivity and of course a company’s future success.
Those companies that are not acknowledging the problems of an ageing workforce will be creating a barrier, as a recruitment agency we would advise all organisations to adopt a policy to assist these changing demographics. We can foresee that it is the companies that are appropriately responding to the challenges of an ageing workforce that will gain that crucial significant competitive edge as regards not only to recruiting talent but maintaining their talent.