Expert warns brain-drain must stop before disaster strikes
Fast-tracking of major building projects will be key to keeping talented young people in Northern Ireland, according to a recruitment expert.
John Moore, managing director of jobs agency Hays in Northern Ireland, was speaking after new population statistics showed that migration out of the country is at the highest level on record – which could spell disaster for the future economy.
Mr Moore said that those who would have traditionally travelled to the Republic to work had been forced further afield by the continuing slowness of the construction sector across the border.
This year the Executive will allocate £1.6bn of infrastructure spend to projects – but there have also been calls from the Institution of Civil Engineers to expedite other major projects, particularly the north-south interconnector.
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has also said he will centralise procurement and delivery of infrastructure projects, prioritise schemes and change the culture of the civil service "in order to make the most of the capital budget".
But Mr Moore said that spending on roads and other major works like public buildings, hospitals and sports venues, needed to be speeded up to help revitalise the construction sector and associated industries, which suffered hugely as a result of the collapse of the property market.
"In terms of making the case for talent to remain within the region, there is no doubt that the private sector would benefit massively from government expediting the release of capital spend on infrastructure projects," he said.
"Construction has traditionally been one of Northern Ireland's strongest-performing sectors, and the positive impact this rolling out of investment would have cannot be underestimated."
He added that there were a number of additional factors contributing to the net outflow of population.
"The recession in the Republic of Ireland has had a significant effect," he said.
"As a business, we know of a number of skilled professionals who typically would have resided in border counties and travelled into the Republic for work.
"With the economic downturn south of the border, these individuals have been looking further afield and are relocating to places such as Canada and Australia where there is perceived to be an abundance of opportunity.
"On the face of it, higher salaries can be found elsewhere but equally there are quality of life benefits associated with Northern Ireland which play in our favour. With the promise of increased opportunity ahead – through proactive decision-making around infrastructure projects – there forms a persuasive case for talent to remain at home."
Northern Ireland's Statistics and Research Agency said that between July 2012 and June 2013, the younger working age population (aged 16-39) fell by 0.8% to stand at 583,800.
Meanwhile, the Finance Minister has responded to the report from the ICE on infrastructure and the urgency of certain projects. But he said many of the projects "aren't the Executive's direct responsibility".
He added: "This year the Executive will invest £1.6bn in capital projects. Northern Ireland already has a number of very successful infrastructure projects including Titanic Belfast, the A4, the South West Acute Hospital and the new Ravenhill Stadium.
"We can build on this and learn from the success of these projects. I intend to meet with the ICE and I look forward to discussing its briefing in further detail."