Belfast Telegraph

Manufacturing workforce 'cut in half in 20 years'

The size of Norther nIreland's manufacturing workforce has more than halved in the last two decades.

Textile weaving, heavy engineering and other production line factories employed just under 50% of the region's private sector workers in 1990.

The sector now accounts for only 22.7% of the sector, according to figures from the Equality Commission.

Proof of the recent downturn's impact on Northern Ireland's overall workforce was also outlined in the commission's 20th annual monitoring report, with the number of employees down for the first time in a decade.

The 12,585 drop (2.4%) left the pool of employed workers at 517,272.

The figures cover the situation in 2009 and so only reflect the initial effect of the recession.

In terms of the traditional religious breakdown of the workforce, Protestants outnumber Catholics 55% to 45% - matching the percentages of those available for work.

But the region's shifting demographics, with more Catholics than Protestants in the under 35 age bracket, have resulted in more Catholics applying for jobs for the third year in succession (51% to 49% - a difference of 10,465).

"This report highlights a changing employment environment in Northern Ireland," said Bob Collins, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

"It provides a snapshot in time, but also, when taken alongside monitoring information from the last two decades can help us to draw some conclusions on trends and patterns.

"It is vital, however, that this information is taken in the round. This period (2009) reflects the initial impact of the recession and also some significant demographic shifts. We must balance and judge all of the available evidence to ensure that we can properly measure any questions of unfairness in employment."

He added: "We know from the 2001 Census that in every five-year age group of those then under 25, Roman Catholics represented over 50%.

"That pattern will have worked its way up the age scale in the years since and it is a reasonable estimate that, of those currently in the 16-34 age group, Roman Catholics now represent some 52%.

"Although this is very likely an important factor in the shift in applicant composition, we cannot assume that it is the complete explanation. More study and research is required into all the factors at play throughout the workforce to help us reach conclusions on trends such as these."

The 2009 report showed a particular hit to the private sector, which reduced by 3.5% or 11,755 employees while public sector employment fell by 0.4% or 830.

The full-time workforce was monitored at 437,604 employees, a fall of 2.2% and the part-time workforce comprised 79,668 employees, a decline of 3.3%.

Overall, there was a steeper drop in the number of Protestants (-6,806 or 2.5%) than for Catholics (-3,899 or 1.8%) and also steeper for men (-8,655 or 3.4%) than for women (-3,930 or 1.4%).

Stressing the continued importance of monitoring the composition of the workforce to ensure fair employment, Mr Collins also urged the extension of research to take account of the increasingly diverse population.

"While economic developments and demographic changes clearly affect the realities of our economy and our society, they also affect our perceptions," he said.

"It is important that they should also inform our expectations. The Equality Commission believes that workforce monitoring should be extended to the grounds of nationality and ethnic origin, so as to capture more accurately the facts about the changing workforce in Northern Ireland and enable us all to see the extent to which the new shape of our society is represented in the world of work."

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