Cuts 'leading to slowdown in Northern Ireland's white collar job market'
Cuts in the public sector are leading to a slowdown in Northern Ireland's white collar job market, a major recruitment agency has said.
Hays - which has three offices here employing 70 people - said public sector recruitment fell by 14% in the six months to December 2015.
And overall, the number of posts shrunk by 1% across both public and private roles. That's a significant change of fortune from a huge boost of 22% in the 12 months to June last year.
But jobs in IT and construction did bolster employment here during the period, according to Hays' global finance director Paul Venables.
"We were up by 12% in the IT space. We deal with IBM, Intel, Fujitsu, and there is positive growth in those markets," he said.
The construction industry also increased by around 5%.
Throughout the UK, Hays saw its fees increase by 3% in the six months to December. It posted pre-tax profits of £86.3m, up 6%.
Turnover also increased to just shy of £400m. "If the public sector is very cautious, spending with private businesses is being frozen, subduing the market," Mr Venables said.
"My temperature on Belfast and Northern Ireland is there are good opportunities in the private sector, some investment... but it's been a bit more cautious."
And he said companies are likely to "sit on their hands" while the uncertainty of a potential Brexit hangs over them.
"In every election, everywhere in the world, you always see growth start to slow down," he said. "95% of everything we do is within the country.
"The bulk of jobs are in Northern Ireland, and that will continue to grow.
"If we stay in, the uncertainty will be a short one, if we leave, the period will be a bit longer."
And while six months ago Northern Ireland was the strongest market in the UK, it's now one of the lowest three regions.
"We have continued strong growth in the private sector, so that's the positive.
"There has been a real slowdown in public sector recruitment."
He said this reduction was likely down to roles not being replaced.
"We have seen a freeze in place. When people have left, and moved on, those jobs have not been replaced. In the UK, we have had a more gradual slowdown.
"Cost control is the buzzword and only the key jobs are being replaced. The most interesting thing is where we will be in Northern Ireland in six months."
Hays has also frozen its own headcount, after previously increasing its workforce by around 30%.