Opinion: My ambition for Northern Ireland’s long-term economic future

By Diane Dodds, Economy Minister

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 6:00 am
Steve Orr, CEO Catalyst, Kirsty McManus, Director of the Institute of Directors, Economy Minister Diane Dodds, Dr Jayne Brady MBE, Belfast Digital Innovation Commissioner, Michael Ryan, vice president and general manager of Spirit AeroSystems Belfast and Dr Joanne Stuart OBE, CEO of Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance

By Diane Dodds, Economy Minister

Northern Ireland is a small country that boasts a growing reputation on the world’s economic stage. Where once we were global leaders in linen, ropeworks and shipbuilding, we now punch above our weight in sectors such as cyber-security, advanced manufacturing and fintech. 

Covid-19 has not only dramatically reshaped our economy, but it has also highlighted the resilience and creativity of our business community which is hard-wired to innovate, adapt and flourish.

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It is that spirit that demonstrates how Northern Ireland can be one of the world’s leading small economies.

I have already set out my new vision for the local economy; centred on making Northern Ireland the most exciting place to do business. I call this my “10X ambition” and it is about creating a step change in how we think about our economy. It is not a literal term about improving by a factor of 10; instead an ambitious pathway for fundamental and significant improvements.

I see our business leaders – alongside our innovators, teachers, students, entrepreneurs and workforce – as essential to this ambition.

Last month, I launched ‘A 10X Economy: An Economic Vision for a Decade of Innovation’. This is my strategy to position Northern Ireland amongst the most competitive small advanced economies. It was inspired by our innovative business community and it was endorsed by a wide range of leaders from industry, hospitality, digital, manufacturing and engineering.

Its guiding principles include supporting a greener economy, inspiring the future generation to thrive, delivering improved outcomes for all and increasing innovation.

We will focus on the areas where we can be a global leader – like cyber-security and fintech. I want to inspire the next generation of workers to respond flexibly to future skills requirements.

However, this broad ambition cannot be achieved in isolation with one single document. That is why we have been developing and delivering additional, dependent 10X strategies which reflect the scale of our ambition.  

The ‘Skills for a 10X Economy’, which was recently launched for consultation, is a strategy to support better skills, better jobs and better lives for our people. It is a key pillar of the 10X Economic Vision and outlines plans to focus on innovation by increasing further education qualifications in technical and professional skills and rebalancing higher education towards Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

It will also tackle inequality by supporting people with low or no qualifications to overcome barriers to employment. It, too, has been widely endorsed by leaders in both the business and education sectors. 

We already have a talented workforce but we need to capitalise on it. Investing in our skills and talent will deliver more and better job opportunities, greater earning potential, better individual wellbeing and, in turn, an improved economy.

Ensuring people of all ages have access to reliable and impartial careers guidance, informed by the needs of the labour market, is also vital in an effective skills ecosystem. I want to see people fulfil their potential and, thus provide a pipeline of talent for local businesses. That is why we are developing an ambitious careers strategy which will contribute to the 10X Economic Vision.

As well as skills, we need to harness trade and investment to support our economic transformation over the next decade. ‘Trade and Investment for a 10X Economy’, which is another key tenet of the 10X Economic Vision, outlines how Government can work with businesses and entrepreneurs to foster a bold, outward-looking international mindset.

We have a rich history as a trading region, built on the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of its people. Now we need to apply that spirit with renewed energy and focus. We want to sell more and attract more high-value inward investment for the benefit of our businesses and our people.

During the next decade we will see dramatic technological advancements with a greater focus on tackling climate change. We must embrace this with confidence and ambition. Our public sector must demonstrate the same levels of innovation and ambition that we expect from others. We need a collective, collaborative approach across government and industry. And we need politicians and communities to share the 10X ambition and buy into the vision in order to bring about the step change required.

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