IoD NI Calls For Stronger Partnership Working Between Government, Business And The Voluntary And Community Sector To Realise Full Workforce Potential

Northern Ireland’s weak skills system must change to ensure the local economy can be competitive and attractive into the future, a new report urges today.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) NI Skills & Workplace Forum Action Report sets out a series of recommendations for the NI Executive, business and the voluntary and community sector with a view to addressing skills shortages and ensuring Northern Ireland has the workforce it needs to grow the local economy now and into the coming decades.

IoD members are frustrated by the weak and disjointed skills and education system that hampers plans for business growth and say that partnership between business and government is crucial to address this in a way that prepares young talent better for the world of work and brings more economically inactive people into the workforce.

The action plan was created following consultation with hundreds of leading NI employers, education and skills providers, the NI Civil Service and the voluntary and community sector through a series of forums between September 2023 and March 2024. IoD and Grant Thornton also surveyed IoD NI’s 800 members with the findings feeding into the recommendations as well.

Kindly supported by independent economic analysis from Grant Thornton, MCS Group and SONI, the report sets out recommendations in five key areas:

  • Reducing economic inactivity
  • Greater engagement with schools and business
  • Fair and equitable access for all young people to academic, vocational and entrepreneurship routes
  • Making childcare work for everyone
  • Ringfencing the apprenticeship levy to address critical skills requirements

The report was launched today at Inspire in Belfast city centre which featured a series of speakers from industry and a closing address by Economy Minister Conor Murphy.

Amongst its many proposals, the report says that a Teachers in Industry Exchange Programme should be piloted to give teachers the opportunity to gain insight into new industries and technologies, build relationships with the business community and capture and embed skills.

It says the number of business leaders serving on school boards should also increase and that businesses should be included in the development and implementation of the curriculum in relation to key digital and green skills.

Other recommendations include ensuring a sustainable and equitable funding solution for Higher Education to retain more of our talented young people – approximately 5,000 leave Northern Ireland every year to avail of degrees elsewhere in the UK and this is expected to rise to 10,000 by 2030.

The report notes that if the £82 million Northern Ireland firms (this also includes public sector) pay in the levy went towards apprenticeships and skills development here, Northern Ireland would be able to create innovative and flexible employment opportunities for 14,000 young people not in employment.

But the report concludes that bringing more economically inactive people into the workforce is perhaps the most fundamental tool at Northern Ireland’s disposal to bridge the skills gap and more must be done to ensure this happens.

Commenting, Kirsty McManus, the IoD’s National Director for Northern Ireland said: “Businesses in Northern Ireland face very significant recruitment and skills challenges and this negatively affects economic growth by constraining productivity and innovation and impacting on competitiveness. Northern Ireland’s rate of economic inactivity also continues to be too high, which has a wide range of negative societal impacts. Addressing all of this is crucial to support economic growth in the interests of everyone, but doing so is complex and requires a multi-sectoral response.”

“Our report is intended to be a practically focussed series of recommendations to realise our full economic potential. We want a needs-based skills agenda that works right across the business community, the voluntary and community sector, and the social enterprise sector. It is about addressing challenges today and about preparing for the future world of work, ensuring that we have the skills we need to promote prosperity and flexibility to respond to future opportunities,” she adds.

Commenting on the Forum’s Action Plan Economy Minister Conor Murphy said: “I welcome this Action Plan which places a clear emphasis on the need to take practical steps that can begin to make a real difference to the lives of people and the success of businesses.

“My economic plan for the North has skills at its core and I’m pleased to see that today’s report aligns with my plans and emphasises the need to take practical steps to move this forward. By ensuring we have significant and sustained investment in our skills landscape, we will grow our workforce and, importantly, increase the number of good jobs we have, right across this whole region. By collaborating with business to identify and invest in new and emerging skills, we will be empowered to tackle our stubbornly low productivity levels. And by supporting our further education colleges, our universities, and our business community to work together to explore the emerging opportunities of net zero, we will not only reduce our carbon emissions, but we will develop the skills for our future workforce.

“I firmly believe collaboration between government, business, and education is key to unlocking the potential of our economy. It is essential to the promotion of equality of opportunity, to delivering good jobs supporting quality of life, and to the continued growth of our economy. In bringing our expertise and resources together I am positive that we can deliver the positive economic change the North needs.”

The full report can be accessed at:

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