The high growth scenario included in the Department for the Economy’s Northern Ireland Skills Barometer report 2019 says that a total of 85,000 new jobs could be created by 2028, almost returning the region to pre-recession levels of job creation, but the “most likely” scenario would see less than half the number of jobs created.
The high growth and baseline — or “most likely” — scenarios as determined within the report by the University of Ulster’s Economic Policy Centre presents very disparate futures for Northern Ireland and the job creation within it. In the high growth scenario, Northern Ireland’s economic ambitions are met, and 85,000 news jobs are created between 2018 and 2028, two thirds of the number of jobs created in the pre-recession decade 1998-2008.
The baseline scenario paints a much bleaker picture, with net employment growth of 39,130 jobs in the decade ending 2028, approximately half of the jobs created from 2012 until 2018. This weaker economic forecast is “driven by a number of factors including a weaker global outlook, uncertainty regarding the UK’s future trading relationships and sustainability of continued growth in consumer spending”. Overall, the high growth scenario would create 2.2 times as many additional jobs than would be created in a baseline scenario.
In the high growth scenario, employment in Northern Ireland will grow from 885,290 in 2018 to 970,670 in 2028, giving the region an employment rate of 74 per cent, an increase on 2018’s 70 per cent but still below the UK’s overall employment rate of 76 per cent. The report states that “although this is an ambitious rate of growth it is not inconsistent with growth rates achieved over the 2012-18 period”.
The agriculture sector is predicted to suffer job losses regardless of the scenario, although the number of losses understandably varies depending on the wider economic outcome. In the baseline scenario, the 2018 level of agricultural employment, 29,640 jobs, would fall by a total of 1,110; 250 jobs would be lost in the high growth scenario. Mining is the only sector unaffected by the wildly different outcomes predicted, with 30 jobs to be lost from the 2018 total of 2,150 regardless.
The information and communication sector is predicted to have the fastest rate of growth in the high growth scenario, 4.2 per cent per year. The professional, scientific and technical services and finance and insurance sectors would be the next fastest, with rates of 2.4 per cent and 1.9 per cent per year respectively. However, despite growth rates being much lower, staple sectors such as health and manufacturing would still see significant rises in absolute terms, with 10,430 manufacturing jobs to be added in a high growth scenario.
The jobs that are due to be created will be disproportionately weighted towards those with a minimum of National Qualification Framework (NQF) Level 2 (five or over GCSEs ranging from A* to C), with only one in 10 of the future jobs going to those lower than Level 2. There is predicted to be 70,000 school leavers between 2018 and 2028 who will not possess Level 2 or above.
Research shows a direct correlation between both weekly earnings and employment rates based on NQF levels, with those at Levels 7 and 8 (Masters or PhD) earning an average of £735 per week with an employment rate of 95 per cent. Those on Levels 4 and 5 (foundation degree/high level apprenticeship) earn an average of £481 per week and have an employment rate of 90 per cent. Those beneath Level 2 earn an average of £313 per week and have an employment rate of just 58 per cent.
Those leaving education predicted to be the most in demand are those with STEM related degrees as the high growth scenario predicts an undersupply in those areas. “The subjects forecast to be predominantly under-supplied are engineering and technology, maths and computer sciences and physical and environmental sciences. It is estimated that the economy will require an additional 330 engineering and technology graduates and 290 additional maths and computer science graduates each year,” the report says.
The ICT, professional services and advanced manufacturing sectors will enjoy significant growth in the high growth scenario, which will drive demand for qualifications in computer science and engineering subjects. The largest supply gaps are predicted to be in computer science, civil engineering and information systems.
Predicted low growth in public sector spending and the resultant likely lower levels of recruitment will lead to an oversupply of graduates in subjects such as education and social studies. The top two most oversupplied subjects are predicted to be training teachers and academic studies in education.
The report ends on a note stressing the importance that the people of Northern Ireland achieving as many formal skills as possible, pointing out that “over 92 per cent of working age people in Northern Ireland with a NQF 4+ level qualification are in employment compared to 64 per cent amongst working age people with a highest level of qualification below NQF level 3”.
One of the main suggestions contained within the report’s conclusion is that underachievement in schools is addressed to “stem the flow of people with low qualifications entering the labour market” due to the predicted lopsided nature of the jobs market over the next 10 years. Other measures suggested to address these gaps are greater degree subject variety, higher numbers participating in work placements and a bigger commitment to lifelong learning in order to “shield workers with low skills from the negative effects of job loss and structural change”.
Top 10 growth sectors (2018–28)
- Professional, scientific and technical
- Information and communications
- Health and social work
- Administration and support services
- Restaurants and hotels
- Finance and insurance
- Arts and entertainment
Top 10 degree subjects in demand (2018–28)
- Engineering and technology
- Mathematical and computer sciences
- Physical/environmental sciences
- Historical and philosophical studies
- Creative arts and design
- Business and financial studies
- Mass communications and documentation
- Agricultural sciences
- Biological sciences
Top 10 foundation degree/high level apprenticeship subjects in demand (2018–28)
- Engineering and manufacturing technology
- Science and mathematics
- Health, public services and care
- Arts, media and publishing
- Business, administration, finance and law
- History, philosophy and theology
- Agriculture, horticulture and animal care
- Social sciences
- Information and communication technology
- Languages, literature and culture
Source: Department for the Economy