Taking stock of the post-Brexit skills challenge in Northern Ireland

10 Aug 2017


What does the post-Brexit jobs market look like in Northern Ireland? The latest feedback from members provided insight into some of the specific challenges and priority areas to be taken forward with government and the business community.

Staff shortages are intensifying in Northern Ireland

Donna Parker, MD of Diamond Recruitment and Chair of REC Northern Ireland, said at the recent policy forum meeting in Belfast: “Candidate shortages are increasing every day, across all sectors”. The feedback from members confirmed that this covers temporary as well as permanent placements with members flagging examples of trained chemists as well as logistics staff choosing to wok south of the border.

Maintaining access to EU staff is vital

The government’s s announcement on the status of EU workers was seen as a step in the right direction although many questions still remain. There is a real sense of urgency in Northern Ireland as a steady flow of workers move over to the Republic of Ireland. Recruiters are playing an important role in ensuring that EU workers on their books are kept up to speed with all developments. This is primarily done though informal means – ie line managers.

There are also specific questions to consider in Northern Ireland, particularly around how Brexit could impact on the status of Irish nationals as outlined in the Good Friday Agreement.

Boosting local skills in Northern Ireland is also a priority

Building better bridges between education and the world of work is a priority in Northern Ireland. The recruitment industry has already made a big contribution here and feeding into this agenda will provide a strong hook for engaging with new Ministers. Speaking at our last policy forum, officials from the Department for the Economy flagged their ‘skills barometer’ which is providing a useful indicator of current and future skills needs.

Employers are doing things differently

Recruiters are working with clients to find practical solutions to intensifying candidate shortages. Reaching out to under-represented groups – including those who are currently economically inactive – is one way forward. For example, recruiters are helping older workers return to the jobs market in a flexible capacity; drivers and care are two of the sectors where this can help to make a difference. Recruiters are having to raise awareness amongst their clients of the sheer extent of candidate shortages in order to manage expectations and encourage new approaches.

What’s next?

The current situation is creating more demand and reliance on the agency sector in Northern Ireland. Priorities ahead are to work with policy makers to address the skills squeeze and to use the Good Recruitment Campaign to encourage more employers to work with recruitment partners to review current hiring procedures.

The ongoing input from REC members in Northern Ireland – and across all regions and other devolved nations – will ensure that our industry’s voice remains at the forefront of the ongoing skills debate.

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