A new plan to address the gap between skills demand and skills supply has the potential to create 2,355 new jobs by 2021 in the Mid Ulster region.
The employment creation opportunity has been identified in a major new research report by the Mid Ulster Skills Forum, the first industry-led body of its kind in Northern Ireland which was established by Mid Ulster District Council.
The Forum commissioned an in-depth scoping study to map the current skills base across businesses and to identify areas for action to match education and skills provision to the critical workforce needs of local employers.
Six key industrial sectors in Mid Ulster which account for 80% of the area’s business base and 63% of employment - manufacturing and engineering, construction, food and agri-food, retail, hospitality and IT – formed the focus of the research, revealing there is a deficit of skilled labour, with over 4,700 vacancies in 2016-2017.
71% of businesses in the study indicated they have issues attracting appropriately qualified staff and 39% also experienced issues retaining appropriately skilled staff, both of which were particularly prevalent in the manufacturing, engineering, food and agri-food sectors.
Inadequate supply of applicants is compounded by wider macro factors such as relatively high rates of economic activity and employment levels and corresponding low levels of unemployment in the area.
Brexit and the eventual decisions relating to the free movement of people hold specific challenges for Mid Ulster and depending on the outcome, may exacerbate vacancy rates in lower-paid sectors such as hospitality and construction and in particular, the food and agri-food where 64% of employees come from elsewhere in the EU.
Speaking at the launch of the skills report and action plan, Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Sean McPeake, said:
“While we could look at the skills picture at a high level where the evidence confirms that there are substantial skills shortages, we could use only our informed opinion at a sub-regional level to account for what our businesses were experiencing on the ground here in Mid Ulster.
“In commissioning a skills study, the Forum was setting out to establish how Mid Ulster, the most entrepreneurial region here, with the 2nd highest concentration of businesses outside of Belfast, is going to maintain, sustain and grow its economic base in the current skills landscape”.
Alan McKeown, who chairs the Mid Ulster Skills Forum and is Corporate Services Director, Dunbia, one of Europe’s largest processors of beef and lamb, said:
“This report is the first major piece of work to come from the Skills Forum and the outworkings of the action plan have the potential to be transformational in terms of how we do two things: prepare people for the rapidly changing world of work and upskilling or reskilling those already in work.
“I believe Mid Ulster is leading the way and can be an exemplar of how a high performing skilled workforce can ensure economic prosperity and the Skills Forum, as a collective, has the ability to drive this success”.
The broad-ranging plan identifies a series of priority actions, from enhancing the image and perceptions of key sectors, increasing the quality and quantity of apprenticeships, and improving engagement across education and employers to supporting technological change and innovation and securing resources and finance for the plan’s implementation.
For more information about the Mid Ulster Skills Forum and the Skills Report and Action Plan, visit www.midulstercouncil.org/skills