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Brexit fears in Northern Ireland firms as skill shortage grows


Ann McGregor, Brian Murphy and Maureen O’Reilly, economist for the quarterly survey

Ann McGregor, Brian Murphy and Maureen O’Reilly, economist for the quarterly survey

Ann McGregor, Brian Murphy and Maureen O’Reilly, economist for the quarterly survey

Around 40% of Northern Ireland businesses say they are looking at changing their target markets on the back of Brexit, according to a fresh survey.

And some 20 of those quizzed said they were considering relocating part of their work outside Northern Ireland as they contemplate the UK's exit from the EU.

That's according to the latest Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry survey with BDO covering the second quarter of 2017.

It also says the majority of firms here are finding it difficult to recruit new workers over a skills shortage.

Four out of five manufacturers said that they had difficulty recruiting for positions in the second quarter of the year, with 71% of those in the services sector also facing the same issues.

It also said firms remain concerned about how Brexit will impact their businesses, and once again reiterated concerns over a lack of devolved government, which NI Chamber chief Ann McGregor said is "becoming increasingly frustrating".

"In what is becoming a tired plea, we ask that our parties resume talks and reach a positive outcome as soon as possible," she said.

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And some firms are thinking about starting up in the Republic where they will have an EU foothold after the UK leaves in 2019.

Meanwhile, recruitment issues reported by businesses come despite 69% of manufacturers saying they are trying to hire workers.

Firms cited a lack of the right skills and attitude as the main drivers behind concerns.

However, manufacturing had a positive performance with most areas seeing improvement. That's despite "considerable cost pressures".

Overall, business confidence "is still holding up in both manufacturing and services", the report said.

Exchange rate issues have also continued to ease in the second quarter. As for the impact of Brexit, half of firms said they have not changed or are considering changing their business model as a result of the vote.

But 9% have already made alterations, while around a third have considered it.

Ms McGregor said: "This quarter's results indicate that there is continued business growth in the region - albeit slow. In terms of inflation, pressure on prices are likely to keep rising in the coming months as the recent sizeable increases in the cost of raw materials and other overheads filter through supply chains." And Brian Murphy, partner at BDO, Northern Ireland, said: "The recruitment difficulties reported by many members is troubling and is further compounded by a lack of clarity on the future status of EU labour."

Ms McGregor said that Brexit is "another concern for businesses who are unable to prepare for what lies ahead because no firm direction has been given on how future relations between the UK and the EU will work".