Rethinking trusted business models and facing changes head-on will be paramount to Northern Ireland's economic recovery in 2021, a business chief has said.
In his New Year message, the president of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber), Ian Henry, said that "2021 will require businesses to remain flexible and fleet-of-foot."
He said business would be grappling "with the changes brought by Brexit and further Covid-19 restrictions, with many having to rethink tried and trusted business models, supply chains and market strategies".
Mr Henry, who is also a director of Mid-Ulster construction business Henry Group, said: "2020 has been a year of disruption and frustration for so many businesses. As we enter 2021, businesses begin the year operating yet again under enhanced restrictions as a result of Covid-19.
"Our members want to be able to open without interruption, for their customers and suppliers to be able to come and go freely, for trade to recover and for confidence to return but we must do this safely and within the guidelines.
"Without a doubt, the arrival of mass vaccination gives our business communities hope for a better year in 2021.
"Even with a Brexit deal, firms face an enormous amount of change in terms of how they trade. Responsibility rests squarely with the UK government to provide crystal-clear guidance that lets businesses plan into 2021 and beyond. The alternative is a new year that begins with even greater turbulence for supply chains, trade and markets - and higher costs for us all, leaving us with a disadvantage."
Mr Henry said businesses should look forward positively by putting plans in place, to help with economic recovery.
He added: "Recently, NI Chamber has been working alongside some of Northern Ireland's leading economists to deliver Thrive - a pragmatic plan for economic recovery. Thrive is an action plan which focuses on how we can start the recovery in Northern Ireland and ensure that enterprises are well placed to recover from the challenges and grasp new opportunities as they occur."
He said among the issues that must be addressed this year are the opportunities for businesses to trade globally, which will be supported by the Chamber. And skills are another priority, particularly in the wake of our new work from home culture, he said.
"The expected digitalisation of work has been rapidly accelerated. There is now a need to amend the curriculum for subjects at all levels to include 'systems skills' such as ICT and data analytics alongside 'human skills' like empathy and strategy. We must invest in languages to support international trade, focusing most on those used in growing economies like Asia. The government must also urgently prioritise the retraining of young people within disrupted industries for other opportunities."
The drive to net zero carbon emissions in 2050 will be a priority, said Mr Henry, who called for governmental support for fuel switching and major projects that will fast track this target.
"As they have done throughout the pandemic, business people are ready and willing to work collaboratively with the public, private, academic and voluntary sectors to build back a thriving economy for all.
"We call on the UK and Irish governments, the NI Executive and local authorities, academia and the voluntary sector to work together, regardless of location or political background, to make a better future a reality."
He concluded: "With the New Year comes renewed energy and hope that the next 12 months will provide companies with the certainty, conditions and support they need to prosper."