Record number of Northern Ireland people working as private sector continues to grow
Northern Ireland hit a record 765,880 people in the workplace during September, new labour market data has shown.
However, a leading economist has said that while the private sector is producing a considerable number of jobs here, the low levels of economic output suggest a sector more focused on quantity than quality.
Northern Ireland's unemployment rate fell slightly to 3.9% for the three months to the end of October, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), equivalent to 34,000 people, or 2,000 fewer than the previous quarter.
The employment rate also fell over the quarter to 68.7%, with 18,000 more people now considered economically inactive compared to the data from May to July.
Northern Ireland hit a record low unemployment rate of 3.1% in the first quarter of 2018.
Ulster Bank's chief economist Richard Ramsey said despite a significant reduction in public sector employment, there are now 33,000 more jobs in the labour market here than in the pre-recession peak of mid-2008.
"Northern Ireland's private sector has been growing continuously for 17 quarters (since June 2014).
"Over that period, private industry has generated a net gain of 77,000 jobs. That's an average of 4,500 jobs per quarter over the last four-and-a-bit years.
"Impressive stuff until you consider what has been happening to output. As of Q2 2018, private sector output was still over 3% below where it was a decade ago. This is despite the fact that there are an additional 44,000 jobs contributing to this output.
"Clearly this highlights that Northern Ireland's job machine is producing quantity rather than quality."
He said 40% of the job gains this year have been within the accommodation, food, wholesale and retail trade.
"Traditionally these are low paid and low productivity sectors," he said.
"Over eight times as many jobs were created in these sectors as compared with new positions in higher productivity and higher wage sectors."
The economist said while huge strides had been made in high productivity sectors ranging from cyber-security to advanced manufacturing and financial services and added: "We simply need more of these types of jobs."
Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland, Tina McKenzie, said the figures reflected "a rebalancing of the economy", with private sector jobs replacing those lost in the public sector.
However, she said the lack of a functioning Executive left Northern Ireland struggling to introduce "targeted action" to address the province's historically high levels of economic inactivity.