Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland employment boom continues despite fears over economy

Richard Ramsey
Richard Ramsey
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's jobs boom is continuing with record employee numbers and low unemployment despite reports of deteriorating business conditions.

According to the government's quarterly employment survey, there were a record 782,670 employee jobs in Northern Ireland between August and October, with numbers surging by 4,210 over the quarter and 15,540 jobs over the year.

The services sector accounted for the lion's share of the growth, adding 4,100 jobs.

That sector covers all businesses which sell services and skills.

In contrast, construction added just 180 jobs, while posts in manufacturing fell by 200.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the rise in employee jobs was a surprise as business conditions in Northern Ireland had been getting worse.

He said he had expected a "levelling off" in jobs growth in the second half.

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The economist continued: "Northern Ireland has now posted 15 consecutive quarters of employment growth and 21 successive quarters of private sector jobs growth."

Andrew Webb, chief economist at Grant Thornton Ireland, said surveys of business sentiment had been glum for some time, "and yet the labour market glides on". "I do note that business investment is down and there is a growing thought that labour is being recruited instead of investment in capital as it is easier to get rid of labour.

"These conundrums might become clearer in the new year, once a Brexit picture starts to emerge."

While employee jobs were increasing, unemployment was also falling, hitting a record low of 2.3% in Northern Ireland.

The labour force survey revealed the rate was down 1.3 percentage points over the year, a trend which the NI Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra), which produces the reports, described as "significant".

The rate for August to September was well below the UK rate of 3.8% and the Republic's joblessness rate of 5.8%.

And the rate of employment among the working age population was 72.4%, the highest on record. The economic inactivity rate was one of the lowest on record in NI at 25.9%, though it remained the highest average rate for the UK regions.

Across the UK, the average economic inactivity rate was 20.8%.

Nisra said: "The continued improvements in the NI labour market are consistent with the UK experience, where employment is the highest on record, the number of jobs is at a record high, unemployment is joint lowest on record and inactivity is one of the lowest on record.

"It is worth noting, while the NI unemployment rate is the lowest of all the UK regions, NI has the second lowest employment rate and highest inactivity rate."

Nisra continued that there had been growth in employee jobs across all industry sectors, but with services dominant.

"Increases were seen over the year in both full-time and part-time jobs, with full-time jobs accounting for 75% of the growth in all employee jobs over the year.

"The annual change in employee jobs was statistically significant, i.e. the recorded change exceeded the variability expected from a survey of this size and was likely to reflect real change."

Meanwhile, the labour force survey reported there had been 89 confirmed redundancies notified to the department in November, compared to 82 the previous month.

Belfast Telegraph