Businesses concerned over huge skills gap
Nearly all firms in Northern Ireland fear that a skills shortage could hit their businesses in the next few years, according to a survey by The Prince's Trust.
The charity, which helps disadvantaged young people get into employment, said business people believe that recruiting young people will avert a skills crisis.
Around 89% of businesses surveyed said they believed a skills crisis would hit over the next three years – and many feared a lack of skills could hamper the UK's economic recovery.
And 45% said they were unable to fill vacancies over the past year because of a lack of skills – and just under one third were frightened that a skills crisis could ultimately cause their business to fold.
Ian Jeffers, director of The Prince's Trust in Northern Ireland, said: "It is deeply concerning that employers in Northern Ireland are struggling to fill vacancies when we have thousands of unemployed young people who are desperate for work.
"The current economic recovery is encouraging, but in order to sustain this growth, UK plc needs to invest in the next generation to avoid a skills vacuum in the future.
"We are urging businesses to take action now to up-skill the workforce of the future to prevent the bubbling skills crisis from boiling over."
Northern Ireland's young people have been badly affected by the economic downturn. Despite the gradual recovery, youth unemployment remains above 20%.
According to recent analysis by Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey, the 18-24 age group has seen a fall in employment of some 8,000 people over the last year.
However, there had been an increase in employment of 20,000 overall, with 15,000 of the increase involving jobs for people aged over 50.
The Prince's Trust said it was calling on employers to invest in vocational training for unemployed people to avoid future skills shortages and create jobs.
The charity has been working with employers like value retailer Lidl and care home group Four Seasons Healthcare to help unemployed young people gain the skills they need to get into jobs.
Lidl regional director Glen Cinnamon said it had worked with The Prince's Trust to develop a Get into Retail Programme, and on completion, 13 of the young people taking part had secured full-time employment in Lidl stores.
"Having worked closely with the Prince's Trust to develop our recruitment and training strategy we at Lidl NI quickly realised the benefits of working with the organisation.
"Benefits were seen by our existing employees who received training on their mentoring skills programme and it opened up a recruitment source which proved to be very successful," he added.