Leading economist says all hope is not lost for Bombardier employees

The aerospace firm Bombardier has said it will cut more than 1,000 jobs from its Northern Ireland operation.
The aerospace firm Bombardier has said it will cut more than 1,000 jobs from its Northern Ireland operation.

A leading economist believes that most employees from Bombardier in Belfast – which is laying off over 1,000 staff – should gain employment at a similar level.

The Canadian-owned aerospace manufacturer said on Wednesday that 580 jobs would be lost this year at its Belfast plant with a further 500 to go during 2017.

The move is part of an efficiency drive which will see 7,000 staff being axed globally by the company.

But Price Waterhouse Coopers NI Chief Economist Esmond Birnie said the outlook should still be positive for many of the staff – and also hundreds being made redundant from JTI Gallahers and Michelin in Ballymena.

“When staff are highly trained, as most of these are, previous cases show that a fairly high percentage get employment in some other manufacturer or service industry at a similar level,” he told the News Letter.

He conceded it may be more difficult for some older employees due to perceptions that younger people may be more adaptable.

But he added that some employers now value older employees for better customer service skills, for example large DIY and garden retail chains.

Rob Slane, Head of Marketing at Economic Modelling Specialists International, told the News Letter that for most occupations there will be other industries that will also employ them.

“When this is not an option, there is the issue of transferable skills,” he said.

“Rather than just looking for a completely different job, it makes sense to think first about what skills are involved in your present job, and then to look for occupations that are most closely aligned and upskill to bridge the gap.

“So, for example, an electrician losing his job, according to our data the closest three matches are heating and air conditioning mechanic and installer, electronics engineering technician, and plumber. Looking to upskill to one of these occupations might be the best way forward for someone in this position.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Employment and Learning said it established an Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Services Working Group in 2012 to address aerospace skill challenges.

The group, chaired by Minister for Employment and Learning Stephen Farry, brings together government, academia and employers to identify skills needs.

An Action Plan launched in April 2014 resulted in a Computing and Engineering Scholarship Programme (CESP), a (CNC) Machining Conversion course, a ‘Leaders in Industry’ programme, a Welding Academy and funding of bursaries in Aerospace Engineering.

Bombardier NI said yesterday it has suspended normal recruitment of 40 apprentices a year.

However, it will continue to support its current 130 trainees to complete their training and gain the relevant qualifications.