Business

Northern Ireland's job market softens - but optimism remains high as one in three search for new role

One in three workers in Northern Ireland are actively looking for new roles, according to a quarterly survey by NIJobs.com and Ulster Bank
One in three workers in Northern Ireland are actively looking for new roles, according to a quarterly survey by NIJobs.com and Ulster Bank One in three workers in Northern Ireland are actively looking for new roles, according to a quarterly survey by NIJobs.com and Ulster Bank

JOB-seekers in Northern Ireland say they are optimistic about the labour market as recruitment levels have begun to moderate, according findings of a quarterly survey by hiring platform NIJobs.

Although vacancies dropped slightly over the last three months, one in three people are actively looking for new roles.

And their top motivators in making their career move are a higher salary (21 per cent), improved work-life balance (9 per cent) and improved skills (8 per cent).

Among the key findings of the survey, which is conducted in association with Ulster Bank and garnered the views of 800 people, are:

• 49 per cent of job-seekers are optimistic about the job market in the north

• 76 per cent are more likely to apply for a position that explicitly outlines the company's policy on hybrid working.

• Health insurance and extra annual leave are the preferred benefits when applying for a role.

• 65 per cent would feel comfortable discussing benefits/ salary if it didn’t meet their expectations.

• Hybrid working (33 per cent), and flexible working (37 per cent) remain the most suitable options for local employees.

The report suggests the level of recruitment activity in the latest quarter still exceeds anything that occurred prior to the pandemic and was 38 per cent above the corresponding quarter in 2019.

Overall, 35 out of the 38 categories have higher levels of recruitment activity in the second quarter of 2023 than they had in the corresponding quarter in 2019 (pre-pandemic).

Many of the big employer categories such as health and catering are below their pandemic peaks but are still significantly above the level of vacancies that pre-dated Covid.

Other sectors still outperforming pre-pandemic levels worth noting include construction, cleaning, retail, engineering and manufacturing.

Orla Moran, managing director of NIJobs, said: “Data from our jobs report indicates recruitment levels are healthy with roles available across many employment categories.

“There is an air of optimism among job-seekers keen to progress their career. And if we delve further into the research, the main motivation for job hunting is a higher salary, followed by improving work-life balance and enhancing skills.

“We know the cost of living is prompting employees to push for higher salaries, but more than half of job-seekers don’t believe their current salary reflects their skills, qualifications, or levels of experience.

“Interestingly, 55 per cent of the people we surveyed say they have received a pay rise in the last year, which would indicate that employers understand the importance of retaining talent and boosting employee confidence and productivity against a challenging backdrop of sky-high inflation rates.”

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said: “The strength of the labour market has defied expectations for the last few years, but there are some signs that labour demand is softening, with HMRC payrolls falling in April and June from what now looks like an employment peak in March.

“June also saw the highest number of proposed redundancies since the first lockdown three years ago and the third highest monthly total in 23 years. Budgetary difficulties within the public sector are likely to put increasing pressure on staffing levels.

“For NIJobs once again, the moderation in recruitment activity was broad-based with 18 of the 39 categories recording a quarterly decline in job vacancies in the second quarter of 2023.

“Interestingly, all but three of the 38 categories still have higher levels of recruitment activity in the second quarter of 2023 than they had in the corresponding quarter in 2019 (pre-pandemic). The three exceptions are IT (down 2 per cent), education (-33 per cent) and sales (-14 per cent).

“Nevertheless, IT still accounted for the largest share of overall vacancies (7.5 per cent), just ahead of management, skilled trades and catering. The latter three categories all accounted for over 7 per cent of total vacancies.”

Mr Ramsey added: “Three employment categories recorded their highest number of vacancies to date. These were construction, customer service and arts & entertainment.

“Despite falling demand, construction firms are still recruiting hard to fill long-standing vacancies. The number of construction vacancies in the second quarter of 2023 was double that of the corresponding period in 2019.

“Skilled trades listings remained close to its series high in Q2 2022 and the level of vacancies is 73 per cent above pre-pandemic levels. Skilled trades are now the third largest category for job vacancies.”