War for talent... But there's a job for everybody

VACANCIES: There are record numbers of job vacancies across many sectors including the IT services industry
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE north's jobs market is in rude health, with experts predicting that the region's labour market could get hotter still as employers in sectors including manufacturing are left fighting a "ferocious" battle for talent.

With the number of job vacancies soaring - and redundancies in 2021 running at a fraction of what they were in 2020 despite the pandemic - figures point to there being a job available right now for practically every person currently out of work in Northern Ireland.

But if bosses are to fill those roles, and indeed retain the talent they've got, the HR function of businesses will be vital, with its responsibilities growing considerably from managing public health advice to planning remote working strategies as well as keeping employees engaged.

The latest jobs bulletin from hiring platform NIJobs in association with Ulster Bank, which provides forward-looking labour market analyses and data on the recruitment by employers, predicts 2022 will be another strong year for job-seekers.

But it cautions that businesses must adapt quickly - and invest - in order to tackle ongoing employment challenges.

It says the recruitment market in the north is now candidate-led, with employers competing to attract and hire the best people for their vacancies.

Jobs in human resources (HR) were two and half times higher (150 per cent) in the final three months of 2021 compared to the same period a year earlier. This suggests employers are moving to put the necessary internal resources in place to support and advance their recruitment and retention ambitions for the year ahead.

Some 28 of the 31 employment categories posted an increase in job listings, with 23 having a record high of vacancies. And 24 categories had listings in 2021 which were above pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

Nursing, healthcare & medical; hospitality, IT; accountancy & finance; and sales roles occupied the top five recruitment categories and accounted for almost half of all recruitment activity.

READ MORE: Richard Ramsey: I would do anything for a job, but I won’t do that

NIJobs general manager Sam McIlveen said: “Most recent NISRA figures show nearly 800,000 pay-rolled employees in Northern Ireland, so more people are in work.

“At the same time, there are now more jobs than ever available, which means employers will be forced to work even harder to attract talent.

“This is the new reality for recruitment - a fact acknowledged earlier this month in a Manufacturing NI survey which reported that 60 per cent of their firms said access to labour was the biggest issue.

“It is likely employers will battle for talent in 2022 and beyond. Hiring will be an ongoing challenge and businesses need to resolve this issue creatively.

“Retention is also going to be a big focus for businesses as employees will consider their career options during the first quarter of 2022. Employee engagement has never been more important, so identifying the needs and rewarding employees is key to retaining talent. Every sector will differ, but employees want more fulfilment in their career now and don’t rely solely on job/financial security.”

Ulster Bank’s chief economist Richard Ramsey, who feeds into the NIJobs report, says 2022 is likely to be another strong year for recruitment due to the anticipated high levels of staff turnover as people chase higher salaries.

Writing in today's Business Insight (pages 26 & 27), he says: “The pandemic triggered a slump in activity within the recruitment market in 2020. But fears of a surge in unemployment after the removal of the Job Retention Scheme have not come to pass. Instead, payroll numbers and unemployment have diverged in the right directions.

“As far as signs of stress in the labour market are concerned, the most visible are those of the positive variety, namely skills shortages rather than job losses.

“It was a record year for advertised vacancies in 2021, although perhaps not surprisingly, the Q4 recruitment drive eased back by 10 per cent from the surge in the previous quarter following the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

“Hiring in the motoring trades is gearing up after dealers experienced the worst two years for new car sales on record, while there were seven times as many job listings within the nursing, healthcare and medical sectors in 2021 relative to 2019, which highlights the scale of attrition within the service and the difficulty filling vacancies.

“But other sectors are hiring due to expansion, particularly within the science, agriculture, pharma and food industry which saw its listings increase six-fold over the last year (and doubled relative to 2019).”

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