Business

Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector bucks UK trend for job creation

Craigavon-based Almac has created around 1,000 jobs since October 2020, with plans to recruit another 1,000 people by 2024.

NORTHERN Ireland’s manufacturing sector is creating jobs at a greater rate than the UK as a whole, new employment data suggests.

The latest labour market report from the Northern Ireland Research and Statistics Agency (Nisra) recorded 89,510 jobs in the sector during March 2022, the highest for 19 years.

Manufacturers created 2,440 jobs in the first quarter of 2022 alone, taking the jobs total number for the sector 2.4 per cent above the pre-pandemic level from the end of 2019.

UK manufacturing jobs as a whole remained 2.1 per cent behind the fourth quarter of 2019.

And while Northern Ireland industry is close to its last jobs peak in March 2003, UK-wide manufacturing employment is 26 per cent below March 2003 levels.

Ulster Bank’s chief economist Richard Ramsey said: “The contrasting manufacturing employment performance in recent years arguably reflects the benefits from the Northern Ireland Protocol that some NI manufacturers have experienced relative to their peers in GB.”

It comes as one of the north’s most successful manufacturers Almac yesterday revealed it has created around 1,000 jobs since October 2020.

The pharma group, which is embarking on a £200m investment programme over the next three years, is investing heavily in Craigavon, as it plans to recruit another 1,000 people in Northern Ireland by 2024.

Nisra’s latest statistical release showed the north’s labour market continuing its post-pandemic recovery.

The number of people in payroll jobs rose for the 12th month running to 779,100 in May.

The north’s unemployment rate for the three months to April 2022 stood at 2.6 per cent, just above the 2.5 per cent recorded at the start of 2020 and near the record low of 2.3 per cent from November 2019.

The proportion of working age people in employment also increased by 1.5 percentage points over the quarter to 70.2 per cent. Nisra described the change as “significant”.

But Northern Ireland’s self-employed sector has yet to recover from the impact of the pandemic, with the total number of people in employment (852,000) still 24,000 (2.7 per cent) down on the fourth quarter of 2019.

The north’s economic inactivity rate (27.8 per cent) is also above Q4 2019.

Richard Ramsey said while there was little sign of a recession in the job market data, the report is typically a lagging indicator of economic activity.

“This is all rear view mirror stuff,” he said. “The economic outlook at home and abroad has darkened.”

Ulster Bank’s latest purchasing manager’s index this week showed business activity in the local private sector in decline for the first time in 14 months.

The economist said the current labour market may be close to peaking.

“A deterioration in the labour market and higher unemployment are invariably viewed as a bad thing, however this is not necessarily the case,” he said.

“An economic slowdown and a modest increase in unemployment should help to alleviate some of the problems local employers face in the current red-hot labour market such as skills shortages and wage pressures.”

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