Job vacancies at record high - but skills shortages will continue to disrupt growth

Man walking through a busy open plan office
Gary McDonald Business Editor

JOB vacancies in Northern Ireland were at a record high in the first quarter of this year, with builders, architects and accountants most in demand, according to a new report.

But with what will be effectively full employment predicted for the next year or so, a senior economist fears for how the vacancies will be filled going forward, especially with EU nationals working here increasingly attracted to opportunities in the thriving eurozone.

The quarterly Bank jobs report reveals an 18 per cent rise in job listings over January, February and March, taking the total number of jobs advertised in the region to a new high.

Recruiter, which works with more than 1,200 businesses in the north, says the study suggests that growth remains broad-based, with a number of firms and sectors in expansion mode (companies actively recruiting include Wrightbus, BE Aerospace, Seagate, Monaghan Bros and South West Regional College).

Eight of the 32 employment categories on the site posted their highest number of listings to date including construction, architecture & property, and accountancy & finance.

A number of categories, notably engineering and production, manufacturing and materials handling went close to their recent highs (the latter is indicative of continued strong demand for exports, buoyed up by robust global growth). general manager Sam McIlveen said the figures, the highest in the 18 years of the study, were a clear sign that people want to work and companies are continuing to expand and invest in recruitment.

"All of the data is telling us there is plenty of good news for job-seekers and recruiters here despite ongoing uncertainty with Brexit and the challenges around economic inactivity compared to other parts of the UK,” he added.

“There have been strong performances across the country, contrary to the belief that recruitment is largely Belfast centric. Indeed two thirds of roles advertised are outside the city, with considerable growth in job listings in Antrim (up 35 per cent), Derry (up 28 per cent) and Down (up 21 per cent).

"Indeed Fermanagh also had an encouraging start to 2018 with a quarter-on-quarter increase of 33 per cent.”

But Ulster Bank's chief economist Richard Ramsey sounded a note of caution, insisting skills shortages, relevant experience and staff turnover remain areas that will cause concern for expansion and growth in Northern Ireland.

He said: “Staff turnover remains an issue with EU nationals working here increasingly attracted to opportunities in their own countries. There was a significant jump in job listings for opportunities in the Republic, highlighting the international dimension to the competition for talent.

“There was a surge in demand for hospitality in quarter one, which not surprising given the number of new hotels due to open this year, while IT vacancies rose by 37 per cent.

“The phrase ‘we can't get the staff' is one we are likely to hear more and more across the economy in the months ahead, and it will be particularly so in these two key sectors.”

Mr Ramsey added: “It's not just about hiring people, it's about getting the right people with the right skills and experience and competition for good people in IT and hospitality will be increasingly fierce.

"Competition in the IT sector for skills will come from the growing number of tech companies that we have locally, while competition for skills in hospitality will increasingly come from external sources.

“As other economies in Europe such as Germany and Poland forge ahead in terms of economic growth at a stronger rate than the UK, combined with the current exchange rate, this will make working elsewhere more attractive to many migrant workers currently in Northern Ireland.”

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