Belfast Telegraph

Unemployment rate fall 'masks lack of opportunities for young'

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's unemployment rate has fallen in the past year but problems are persisting in parts of the job market, figures have shown.

The latest labour market survey put the unemployment rate at 6% for December to February - down 1.7% on the same period a year before.

But Northern Ireland still has a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the UK, at 5.6% - though our rate is around half the 10% rate in the Republic.

The separate monthly claimant count, which records those claiming jobseekers allowance, was down by 1,000 to 42,500 during March.

The unemployment rate for 18 to 24-year-olds is 20.5% - down nearly 3% over the year but much higher than the UK average of 13.9%. Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said that while the steadying in the unemployment rate to 6% was welcome, it could become harder to maintain the fall. "The pace of employment growth is expected to slow with the public sector due to shed a significant number of jobs over the next few years," he said. "Clearly the biggest labour market challenge facing local policymakers remains the dearth of opportunities available for our younger generation."

The percentage of those in the dole queue who have been jobless for a year or more was 62.2% - up 16.6 percentage points.

Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said the skills of those worst-hit by job losses in retail and construction in the downturn were not matching areas of the economy which had seen growth.

"This year the highest growth sectors are expected to be professional, scientific and technical activities and ICT. Targeted funding towards the retraining of the long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland is necessary if this cohort is to play a role in our future economy," she said.

She said both the Executive and the private sector had roles to play in helping the long-term unemployed.

"Employers need to be much more sympathetic to job candidates that are coming off the unemployment register," she said.

"Lack of work experience can erode skills and generally discourages employers from hiring job applicants with no recent work experience. The solution to this problem lies with a social partnership approach."

Story in brief

The labour force survey for December 2014 to February 2015 gives an unemployment rate of 6% - up 0.2 percentage points from the previous quarter. However, the rate was down 1.7% on the rate the year before that. The percentage of those in the dole queue who were jobless for a year or more was 62.2% - up 16.6 percentage points on the year before. The rate of youth unemployment was 20.5% while economic inactivity - those who were neither working or looking for work - was 26.8%, the highest of all 12 UK regions.

Belfast Telegraph