'Manufacturers prepared to sell lead on the roof than risk losing skilled workers'

Manufacturing firms have reported difficulty in recruiting skilled welders and fabricators.
Manufacturing firms have reported difficulty in recruiting skilled welders and fabricators.

ACUTE skills shortages within the manufacturing sector means firms are fighting to hold onto workers despite little prospect of their business recovering until next year.

New figures from HMRC yesterday showed 9,560 manufacturing jobs still were still furloughed in the north at the end of March.

The latest data showed the total number of people in Northern Ireland on furlough fell from 108,600 to 99,400 between February 28 and March 31.

Chief executive of Manufacturing NI, Stephen Kelly said firms “would rather sell the lead on the roof than actually let people go”.

He said: “They know they’re not going to be able to recruit them again, and they won’t be there for the recovery.”

The industry insider said he believes the worst of the redundancy programmes within the sector are now over.

A survey published by Manufacturing NI on Thursday revealed 76 per cent of companies are not planning to make any redundancies in the next six months. Just seven per cent confirmed they will axe more staff.

“Companies are making every effort to maintain the labour pool they have, because they know they won’t replace it if they lose it," said Mr Kelly.

The survey found just over half of firms encountering difficulty in recruting skilled workers.

Topping the list was welders, with 18 per cent of firms within the sector struggling to recruit. Another 13 per cent reported difficulty finding fabricators.

A rising number of manufacturers (42 per cent) said they will commit to taking on new apprenticeships from September 2021 - up from 20 per cent last July.

Meanwhile economist Richard Ramsey said the gradual reopening of the economy was now being reflected in HMRC's furlough figures.

He said almost 60 per cent of the monthly drop in the numbers availing of Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was due to a decline in the furloughed jobs within the wholesale and retail/repair of motor vehicles sector (-2,710 jobs) and the accommodation and food service sector (-2,700 jobs).

He said the north’s furlough figure should fall sharply over the coming months.

“The second quarter should see a rapid descent in the number of employments furloughed with a progressive easing of lockdown restrictions at the end of April and again in late May.

“The reopening of non-essential retail and the hospitality sector is expected to lead to a similar fall in furloughed employment that occurred last August and September.”