Skills shortage challenge must be met

John Healy. Pic by David Cordner.
John Healy. Pic by David Cordner.
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With two-thirds of NI Chamber member businesses deeply worried that there aren’t enough sufficiently skilled people to fill vacancies, the scale of the challenge to address skills shortages is becoming increasingly apparent.

It is impossible to ignore the trends that are unfolding in front of our eyes, the gap between what is learned in schools, colleges and universities and what is valued by employers.

generic school classroom class pupils teacher student education

generic school classroom class pupils teacher student education

For employers, skills issues can reduce their ability to respond to customer needs and stay ahead of competitors, to adopt new technologies or to fully utilise existing equipment or ways of doing things.

Qualifications are one part of the mix, as indicators of achievement and ability; however, nurturing the right attitudes, behaviours and skills as young people progress through the education system is just as important.

Organisations are finding it harder and harder to hire the right employees, and this is compounded by the uncertainty over Brexit, and the question that it poses. Such as, ‘where are we going to find the talent to drive future growth across the province’?

Skill shortages are not ‘industry exclusive’; hospitality, retail, health, construction, manufacturing and IT are all being affected, with wage growth reflecting these skills shortages.

All industries need a steady supply of skilled, committed and passionate talent. There must be a clear pathway for young people through school, enabling and inspiring them to acquire appropriate skills within the existing curriculum.

They should be offered progression routes to apprenticeships and further and higher education. At the same time, a framework of support should be made available to allow teachers to deliver the curriculum effectively.

Looking to the future, the need for digital talent goes far beyond the digital ICT sector. We need to ensure that the next generation has foundational digital skills and an understanding of how to apply them.

Teachers (particularly at primary level) need help to develop their own digital skills in order to teach effectively, and industry could provide support in this process.

A combination of valuable economic skills and high-level technical education is critical to meeting Northern Ireland skills needs.

Yet despite growing student enrolments in fields like computer science and tech, new jobs in these high-growth sectors still outweigh the number of skilled workers to fill them.

In a system where learner choice plays an increasingly important role, it is even more important for young people to access good information, advice and guidance on the likely skills needed by employers in the future.

That is why Allstate, and business organisations such as NI Chamber, are committed to working together with government and education to agree a core set of transferable employability skills, giving people of all ages the tools needed to upskill and ultimately creating a competitive workforce that will support the NI economy.