Skills shortage and Brexit main issues facing Northern Ireland companies
A skills shortage is one of the biggest problems for businesses behind the curtain of Brexit, according to a survey showing the poorest outlook for nearly 10 years.
The quarterly survey from BDO and the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NICCI) said that one in two chamber members cannot get suitable people for jobs, while 63% of those questioned said the skills gap was impacting on business performance.
Six in 10 believe Brexit has further impacted on the ability to attract skilled workers to Northern Ireland.
Some 77% of service sector firms and 74% of manufacturers said they were having difficulty recruiting the right staff.
Maureen O'Reilly, economist for NICCI, said: "If Brexit wasn't here, a skills shortage would be one of the biggest issues, if it was allowed to be given the space."
The survey's results were drawn from 7,000 respondents, covering over one million employees here.
Firms also showed declining confidence in prospects for turnover and profitability over the next 12 months, with investment intentions among members falling.
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But despite the study showing some recessionary indicators - particularly in the services sector, which experienced a weak domestic performance and negative investment intentions - there were still signs of growth.
In manufacturing, 11 of the 14 key balances were positive over the first three months of the year, and six increased on the end of last year.
Employment balances were the most positive, with 63% of manufacturers currently recruiting, despite the overall fear of skills shortages.
However, domestic and export order books are weak, with 82% feeling the pressure from raw material costs.
Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NICCI, said: "Our findings should serve as a clear warning that the ongoing impasse at Westminster is contributing to a sharp slowdown in the real economy right across all of the UK regions. These are some of the weakest figures we've seen in nearly a decade - and that's no coincidence.
"Business is certainly hitting the brakes. In fact, many of the gains in business confidence in both sectors post-recession are increasingly being eroded by the Brexit-related uncertainty.
"The UK Government must ensure that a messy and disorderly exit is avoided and provide firms with certainty on future conditions to prevent further declines."
Brian Murphy, managing partner at BDO, said companies required certainty.
"What these businesses need is support and clarity around the major issues to allow them to develop and be competitive in the domestic and global marketspace," he added.