Unemployment back on rise in Northern Ireland
Redundancies in local manufacturing sector blamed for adding 4,000 to jobless figure
Northern Ireland's unemployment level is again on the rise and higher than almost any other region of the United Kingdom, up by 4,000 in a three-month period.
The number of people on the dole increased by 200 last month, according to the latest Government statistics.
Overall jobless levels rose to 56,000 between December and February, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
That is the highest level reached in Northern Ireland in more than a year.
According to one economist, the increase could be down to big losses in the province's manufacturing sector.
The unemployment level here now sits at 6.3%, compared with the UK average of 5.1%.
The number of people claiming unemployment benefits increased by 200 in March to 38,600, according to the Labour Force Survey.
It's the second consecutive month that the number of people on the claimant count has shown a rise.
Throughout the UK unemployment increased for the first time in almost a year.
The jobless total jumped by 21,000 between December and February to 1.7 million.
The latest figures are a "mixed bag" for the province, according to Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey.
"On the unemployment front, the number of individuals claiming unemployment benefits in March rose for the second successive month," he said.
"Meanwhile, the wider measure of unemployment increased by 4,000 over the latest quarter to 56,000 - its highest level since the second quarter of 2015.
"The unemployment rate now stands at 6.3%.
"This is also at its highest level since the second quarter of last year.
"Rising unemployment is confined to the male population and this is probably linked to job losses within the male-dominated manufacturing sector."
Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said "economic growth and job creation were dependent on a stable macroeconomic environment and, unfortunately, in the months ahead economic uncertainty will rise as the European Union referendum approaches".
She added: "With two successive months of rising unemployment claimants, local policy makers must remain relentlessly focused on aligning investment in areas such as skills, education and infrastructure with our long-term economic goals."
Max Mackin, owner of Belfast's Reactive Recruitment, said with the introduction of the National Living Wage this month "areas like the hospitality sector have had to reduce staff numbers".
He added: "For the more senior roles and professionally qualified posts, employers are crying out for staff.
"There is a skills shortage in higher level roles across Northern Ireland.
"The engineering and manufacturing industries have vacancies at all levels, while the IT sector has a continual drought of developers."