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Minister calls on businesses to invest in people skills

Northern Ireland must make the best use of its most important resource - its people - if it is to become a globally competitive economy, according to Dr Stephen Farry, Employment and Learning Minister.

Addressing the recent NI Economic Conference, he said: "The case for developing the skills of the population to invigorate growth is a compelling one.

"Overwhelmingly, evidence shows it is the skills and employability of our workforce that are crucial to economic success.

"These vital components help economies make the most of new opportunities in high value-added activities; they encourage greater investment, including inward investment and innovation; they help firms compete successfully in export markets and, ultimately, they support economic growth and enhanced productivity.

"Research conducted for my department shows that over 50% of jobs in 2020 will require higher professional and other Higher Education level qualifications.

"While the skills profile in Northern Ireland continues to improve, we cannot underestimate the continued importance of a joined up approach between government, employers and education providers to gain a better understanding of the demand for skills, and ultimately the importance of a dynamic skills system in responding to that demand with speed and flexibility.

"The new Skills Strategy for Northern Ireland builds on the existing skills and training landscape by seeking to increase engagement with employers.

"Through this engagement we aim to encourage business to invest in skills, grow the economy and provide a positive outcome for the current and future workforce.

"Our economy is predominantly made up of micro businesses, employing 10 people or fewer. Engaging with these firms and encouraging them to invest in their skills is a key focus of my department's Skills Solutions Service.

"This service provides a single point of contact for information on the Department's training programmes and funding available and has the ability to transform the way in which we work with employers."

On the subject of a potential lower rate in corporation tax, the Minister concluded: "My Executive colleagues and I are currently considering the implications of a lower rate in Northern Ireland.

"I believe that it could deliver a steep change in the performance of the Northern Ireland economy.

"However, we must ensure that any change is accompanied by renewed focus on other drivers of growth. In particular, we must ensure that our skills and employment programmes are responsive to and supportive of any changes cascading from such a reduction.

"My department has recently commissioned research to inform our approach."