Belfast Telegraph

Brexit and Stormont’s troubles stirring up problems on jobs market, says expert

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland's job market is facing a series of major challenges this year, including the impact of Brexit and ongoing political instability, one recruitment expert has said.

Speaking about short-term challenges for recruitment, globally, which will also feed down to Northern Ireland, Tina McKenzie, group managing director of Staffline in Ireland, said: "Global trends for us, which will hit Northern Ireland, include automation.

"Globally, that means we will see a reduction in manufacturing jobs.

"That will continue to increase. We are also seeing an increase in the 'gig' economy - for example, businesses like Uber, which use people who are online and bidding for work, and who do not have regular contracts."

"There will be more increased penetration of technology, allowing remote work.

"And artificial intelligence (AI) ... there is a real fear that there will be a lot of unemployment due to the rise of AI."

And on the jobs market in Northern Ireland, she said: "With 1.8 million people here we are being challenged in recruitment, as we have a lack of people with a job.

"With Brexit looming, there is a real fear about how we fill jobs with people from other countries."

Ms McKenzie said that includes roles in health and food manufacturing.

"(There is) a fear that people will come into the Republic, and not move into the north. It's a challenge to get labour here anyway, which could increase wages and put increased cost on food.

"With inflation, Brexit, tariffs, currency, it doesn't spell for a good picture for food manufacturing in Northern Ireland.

"On the back of that, we potentially have the challenge with unstable government.

"The backdrop isn't particularly healthy, but that being said, the upside, generally with food, people prefer to have British or Irish suppliers.

"That's good news for the food sector.

"We have also had an increase in tourism numbers but we are seeing a real shortage of people in hospitality."

Ms McKenzie said more must be done to get people into work, and decrease the levels of those economically inactive. Staffline is the largest recruitment firm in Northern Ireland, and deals with around 9,500 workers.

"We have a huge problem with youth unemployment, with around one in five (out of work)," Ms McKenzie said. And on the apprenticeship levy, which is likely to be a 0.5% levy on employers' wage bills, she said: "In Northern Ireland, it hasn't been defined, but all signals point to it as a tax."

She said another key issue is ensuring schools do a better job in informing children what jobs are out there, and which are in demand.

"I don't think the connection is there with education. We need to explain things clearly."

Belfast Telegraph