ALMOST 30,000 new jobs will be created in Northern Ireland over the next five years, new independent economic research has revealed.
Figures provided by the NI Centre for Economic Policy (NICEP) for the Belfast Telegraph show that, primarily, the opportunities will be in manufacturing and professional services – often relatively high-paid sectors renowned for substantial investment in the skills of their workforce.
The good news sits against a backdrop of an improving labour market and offers a positive indication that the local economy is back on track.
Gareth Hetherington, associate director of NICEP, which is based in the Ulster Business School, said the highly-skilled nature of the new posts was of fundamental importance.
"Looking forward, we forecast 28,400 new jobs in Northern Ireland over the next five years," said Mr Hetherington.
"It is particularly encouraging that many of these jobs will be in manufacturing and professional services, sectors which often pay above average salaries and also invest significantly in the skills development of their workforce. We also anticipate that employment growth will return to the construction sector as we have finally seen a return to growth in house prices in 2013."
The NICEP economic forecast indicates that administration services – including call centres and agency work – will see the biggest boost in employment, with 4,200 new positions available between now and 2018.
Retail opportunities are also expected to swell by 3,700, while the construction industry, a sector which suffered most during the recession, will get a much-needed boost of 3,300 to its workforce, aided in part by a boom in the local housing market.
Meanwhile, there will be an extra 3,100 jobs available in the professional and scientific sector, and manufacturing will also gain 3,000 additional workers.
Mr Hetherington said Stormont – which has been instrumental in job creation over the last couple of years – must sustain its efforts to this end.
"There have been a number of inward investment successes in the last 12 to 18 months and credit should be given to Government for that," he said.
"But the challenge now facing ministers and their officials is two-fold: firstly, maintaining the inward investment momentum achieved in recent times, and secondly, ensuring the local labour market is equipped with the right skills in the right quantities as required by industry."
In total, there are 834,100 people in employment (including the self-employed) in Northern Ireland, according to the latest official figures.
NICEP has now predicted that the working population here will have swollen by 28,400 in 2018 to reach a total employment tally of 862,500.
Data from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings indicates that the mean gross annual pay of employees in Northern Ireland is currently £22,463.
The even better news for the local labour force is that the new jobs forecast by NICEP should attract above-average salaries, with manufacturing at £26,710, construction at £23,798, professional, scientific and technical at £22,900 and financial services at £29,760.
Last week, Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry vowed to help create 10,000 new apprenticeships by 2020 to better link further education with the demands of the labour market.
Mr Farry said he wanted apprenticeships to have parity of esteem with degrees for pupils in Northern Ireland making decisions about higher education.
He also said he believed they were the way forward for the economy in terms of fixing the mismatch of qualifications and skills in the labour market.
The Northern Ireland Centre for Economic Policy is an independent economic research centre which works with organisations seeking to enhance the Northern Ireland economy. NICEP is led by Professor Neil Gibson and carries out a range of roles, including research, providing policy advice, teaching economics in the Ulster Business School and undertaking consultancy projects.