Business and Finance

Skills in demand

Northern Ireland’s talent pool has adapted well to transition, however, the economic impact of Brexit, in whatever form, will shape both supply and demand in the labour market.

Even prior to the Brexit referendum, there has been a long-standing need to expand Northern Ireland’s economy and to grow jobs. For this reason, many of the projections on job creation and the demand for skill are based on a high growth scenario.

It is expected that Northern Ireland will produce 80,000 job opportunities annually for the next 10 years, however, of these jobs around 65 per cent will be filled by those already existing in the labour market. Of those estimated 29,000 jobs remaining, employers will be dependent on the education sector. Usually, any imbalance would be filled with migrant skills, however, this supply of labour could potentially be hampered by post-Brexit restrictions.


An analysis of the skills requirement in Northern Ireland highlights a growing demand for graduate level entry (30 per cent). The demand for low skills is decreasing strongly. The report forecasts demand at around 11 per cent, highlighting that currently 19 per cent of school leavers achieve less than five GCSEs A-C.

Looking at the various skills levels, graduate level skills projections are falling slightly short of demand. However, there is currently an imbalance in the mix of subject areas studied and the areas where demand is expected to grow. The largest supply gaps are likely to appear in mid-tier skills, where there is a significant under supply. While many at mid-level will choose to prolong their education rather than enter the labour market, the solution is outlined as encouraging those in the low skill category to continue their education.

Over supply and under supply across individual subject levels have been identified. An under supply of subjects such as engineering and technology, maths and computer sciences and physical and environmental sciences has been highlighted. Growth of the ICT, professional services and advanced manufacturing sectors is driving both a demand for STEM related subjects and employer demand for qualifications in computer science and engineering subjects.

In contrast to this, the demand for skills popular across the public services, such as education, social studies and law, is expected to fall due to low or no growth in public sector spending and subsequent lower levels of recruitment. Similar to higher level skills, the largest under-supply of mid-tier skills are also STEM related.

Employability skills and placement

Employers have identified employability skills, examples of which include team working, people management, initiative, etcetera, as a critically important skillset of young people leaving education. While an element of this should be integrated into course delivery at education institutions, some form of work experience is also a highly sought after attribute.

Research carried out by The Graduate Market in 2016 outlined the various sectors where placement or internship programmes were most successful in securing graduate level employment after qualification.


Due to the under-supply of STEM-related subjects, continued demand for these skills and investment potential for these sectors, it has been recommended that provision for these subjects at both higher education and further education is increased.

The recommendation has furthered the need for debate around future funding models that could incentivise the study of under-supplied subjects.

Over-provision of subjects needs further exploration. It has been pointed out that often those subjects that are over-supplied can provide a good skillset for a different career path or employment at a level below qualification. Establishing where graduates are utilising their skills can provide a more in-depth analysis of subject provision compared to the labour market.

The one to three average ratio of vacancies filled by previous interns or placement students across various sectors suggests that there could be benefits to rolling out these opportunities across more courses.

Under achievement has also been identified as needing greater focus. Supply gaps in medium and higher skilled jobs could be bridged by improving the education of those underperforming.

The Ulster University Economic Policy Centre (UUEPC), was commissioned by the Department for the Economy to develop a Northern Ireland 2017 Skills Barometer.

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