Stephen Farry has highlighted the ICT sector’s potential as a key driver for the growth of Northern Ireland’s economy. Speaking at Scrum 2014, a conference organised by the ICT trade federation Momentum, the Employment and Learning Minister acknowledged the strong skills base within Northern Ireland and highlighted the critical importance of skills to the economy.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the availability of skills is one of the key determinants of our ability to fully capture the opportunity presented to us in the future,” Farry stated. “If we are to achieve our economic ambitions of higher value added economic growth and developing niche areas for ourselves in areas such as ICT, we will need a workforce with higher level qualifications, more focus on science, technology, engineering and maths skills, better management and leadership skills, and more individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit who will be prepared to seek out opportunities.”
Farry chairs the ICT sector implementation group, which manages an action plan on improving skills in the sector. The Minister added that the group’s success is explained by having all the key players at the table i.e. universities, colleges, government departments, Invest NI “and of course, most importantly, employers.”
He added: “Together we have already had an impact; we have raised applications for IT-related degrees at our local universities, developed IT apprenticeship schemes, and created conversion courses to encourage people into the sector. By working together, we are having a real impact on the quality and quantity of the skilled workforce available to the local ICT Industry.”
The action plan explains that ICT is “extremely important” to the Northern Ireland economy and the sector employs around 16,000 people. Gross value added per job is £57,000 and wages are one third above the private sector average.
Computing, including software development, accounts for more than half of these jobs and the key growth areas have been in financial services, customer relationship management, general software, mobile communications, and internet and e-commerce.
“The indigenous companies and those who have located here both recognise the need to quantify and qualify the number and types of future jobs that the sector as a whole can create,” it states.
“Several of the larger new investors have stated that they could attract more work from within their global business groups if there were the quantity and quality of staff available to them in Northern Ireland.” In this way, the action plan explains that there is room for improvement on skills but also considerable potential for economic growth as newly skilled staff come into the workforce.