Business

Majority of businesses being held back by skills shortage

Apprenticeships are seen as one way of alleviating the north's chronic skills gap

THE majority of business in Northern Ireland fear a skills shortage is set to hamper their future success.

The Education and Skills Survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Pearson found 59 per cent of companies in the north needed more highly skilled staff.

It said science, engineering, construction and manufacturing sectors were the worst affected.

The survey said businesses were already reporting real problems in recruiting people with 15 per cent currently struggling to employ graduates with sufficient STEM skills.

Nigel Smyth, CBI Northern Ireland director, said: “While the Northern Ireland economy continues to make headway we must be on our guard as local growth risks being undermined by a shortage of the higher-level skills businesses need to get on, and the situation is only set to get worse.

“High-growth, high-value sectors, with the most potential are under the most pressure, like science, engineering, digital and manufacturing. We must make sure that our education and skills system is truly responsive to the needs of business and that young people receive much better careers advice, if we are to propel the Northern Ireland economy forward in the years ahead.”

The survey also found 70 per cent of companies intended to expand their apprenticeship programme or start one in the next three years.

Mr Smyth added: "Apprenticeships are part of the answer and plenty of firms are getting involved. But the risk with the UK government's new apprenticeship levy is that it focuses on quantity not improving quality or delivering the skills that the economy requires.

“As a UK-wide levy, a share of the funding raised must directly support vocational training and apprenticeships in Northern Ireland.”

Across Northern Ireland, 80 per cent of businesses are not satisfied with the current performance of careers advice in schools and colleges.

Business also wants to see universities doing more to improve the business relevance of undergraduate courses (65 per cent) and help students become job-ready (53 per cent) if the challenge is to be met.

Rod Bristow, president of Pearson's UK business added: "Building a world-class school and qualifications system is the best long-term solution for securing sustainable, skilled workers and economic growth.

"We must prepare young people for the world of work through closer engagement and collaboration between the business community, universities, schools and further education colleges.”

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