We have a strong cohort of around 2,200 advanced manufacturing, materials and engineering (AMME) companies in Northern Ireland.
They employ over 46,000 people and are worth approximately £3.2bn to the local economy, accounting for around 8% of our economic output.
This is one of the key sectors I will be focusing on as we work to rebuild the economy after the impact of Covid-19 - alongside digital, clean energy, and life and health sciences.
These four areas are a vitally important part of my long-term plan to deliver higher paying jobs, a highly skilled workforce and a more regionally balanced economy. The AMME sector is expected to require around 1,500 new workers every year, with opportunities across all skills levels and work which includes R&D, new product development and manufacturing.
Recent technical skills required by job applicants included welding, engineering drawings and Mig and Tig Welding as well as softer skills such as teamwork/collaboration customer service and scheduling.
AMME is a highly productive sector, generating output per worker of £68,199 - 23% above the Northern Ireland average.
It covers automotive, construction, materials handling, electronics, consumer products, water, and aerospace and defence.
There have been some difficult times for the manufacturing industry in recent months with redundancies announced at some companies due to the impact of Covid. But I am confident it will rebuild and this sector has a central role to play in our economic recovery plan.
Over the last three years Invest NI has provided support and business advice to 622 companies in the sector.
The financial assistance offered, covering investment in R&D, job creation and growing exports, totals £98m and will contribute towards £612m of investment in the economy and the creation of 3,350 new jobs.
Northern Ireland has a world-class reputation for its strengths in many areas including plastics and polymers, composites design and manufacturing, precision manufacturing, and specialist joinery and fit-out.
AMME was one of our biggest exporters in 2019. Machinery and Transport Equipment was our second biggest export to Ireland (£526m), our biggest to the Rest of the EU (£844m) and the biggest to the Rest of the World (£2bn).
There can be significant interdependencies between our manufacturers with many of them operating within integrated supply chains.
Some manufacturing companies in recent months have had to consider how their production could be done differently to comply with new social distancing rules and fortunately they have adapted quickly and positively to accommodate these challenges.
Success in this sector has always required innovation and I intend to build upon that and encourage it even more. Robotics and automation have a part to play throughout our economy.
In the wider context of the City and Growth Deals, there are many strong AMME related opportunities which would help support the future growth and development of the sector.
Matrix, Northern Ireland's science industry panel, has conducted a study on Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and is working closely with WISE, a UK body committed to encouraging women and girls to take up careers in science and engineering, to develop a Northern Ireland regional hub aimed at showing girls that STEM careers are exciting, well-paid and fulfilling.
Matrix has also carried out a detailed foresight study into the AMME sector. My department will continue to work with Matrix on the recommendations made and also in identifying opportunities and technologies likely to emerge over the next decade to ensure Northern Ireland maintains a competitive edge.