Mind the Skills Gap
‘Northern Ireland is at risk of making promises it can’t keep unless we address the growing skills gap’ : Jim Stewart CBE, Sentinus Chair
“While the confirmation of a corporation tax reduction in the recent ‘Fresh Start’ agreement is welcome, Northern Ireland is at risk of making promises to inward investors that we can’t keep if we don’t also address the growing skills gap.” That’s according to Jim Stewart CBE, Chair of Sentinus, the leading educational charity which delivers Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) engagement programmes to over 60,000 pupils across Northern Ireland.
He made the comments following recent confirmation of plans to reduce corporation tax to 12.5% from April 2018 and also the publication of the first Northern Ireland Skills Barometer which highlighted the critical importance of STEM subjects to the future of the NI economy. The report, developed by the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre on behalf of the Department for Employment and Learning, also confirmed that STEM is where the largest skills supply gaps are forecast, potentially constraining NI economic growth.
“While we of course welcome the ambition of the Northern Ireland government to make Northern Ireland more attractive to both inward and indigenous investment, through a more competitive corporation tax environment, we must not lose sight of the fact that skills are by far the most important thing that will attract such investment in the first place. With growing cuts to third level education as well as to STEM education more generally this will have a detrimental effect on our ability to attract young people into the sector and in turn severely hamper the growth of the local knowledge economy. Working with the engineering and technology sectors on a daily basis we are acutely aware of the growing pressures they face on getting the necessary skills and talent to support their growth plans. Indeed a recent initiative by a number of the key players in NI software development – IT3Sixty, shows how desperate some of them have become, by seeking to combine their resources to recruit talent from across Europe to meet current needs.”
“Reduced Corporation Tax on its own is clearly not enough to have the desired economic effect and we would call on the NI government to act as soon as possible on the clear evidence presented by the recent Skills Barometer. It makes it very clear that the STEM subjects are by far the most undersupplied- particularly Mathematics and Computer Science and Engineering Technology – a trend which reflects the anticipated growth on ICT, professional Services and Advanced Manufacturing sectors. It also points out that the potential skills shortage this presents could constrain economic growth and encourage employers to either look to source labour from overseas or shift investment plans elsewhere.”
“With this in mind we need joined up thinking to tackle the skills shortfall both in the short and medium to long term. For our part, we are already in discussions with a number of partner bodies and organisations who share our passion for STEM promotion and who are keen to make a positive contribution. We want to make 2016 a year where STEM is firmly put on the agenda and where concerted and co-ordinated efforts are made by government and industry to encourage more of our young people to choose the critically important STEM subjects.”
“We feel that the Executive has a collective responsibility to do everything in its power to ensure our skills base continues to grow, so that we can meet the demands presented by the current and future knowledge economy,” concluded Mr Stewart.
For further information, please contact:
Kieran Donnelly/Michael Magill
Tel: 028 90 393837