Posted on Thursday 26 August 2010 by Ulster Business

As the Northern Ireland economy wheezes its way out of intensive care, Cathy McCorry, Managing Director at the Grafton Employment Group Northern Ireland comments on what lies ahead for the recruitment and employment market

Undoubtedly the recent economic volatility has brought many changes to the recruitment and employment industry, with many employers throughout the province having reduced their recruitment requirements across a range of sectors. However it was not all doom and gloom as in 2009, some sectors fared better than others. Some areas in particular have held up reasonably well including IT, Healthcare, Food & Drink and Pharmaceuticals. While there is still a long way to go before sustainable economic growth becomes a reality, in recent months there has been a fresh impetus and the market has shown some modest signs of economic recovery and a return of business confidence. Across the Grafton Employment Group in Northern Ireland, available positions are up 7% compared to the previous six months. Those sectors charting pronounced increases in the supply of jobs have included IT and Customer Service. Even after other aspects of the economy have recovered, unemployment is always a lagging factor in a recession and the recruitment and employment industry is one of the most exposed, as it depends on a healthy level of employment. As we have witnessed in Northern Ireland, the unemployment rate is up 0.7% over the year, whilst the number of persons in employment has increased by 2.4% in the same period. Despite recruitment beginning to pick up, jobseekers across all sectors in Northern Ireland are still facing some of the toughest conditions for a decade, resulting in a ‘two-speed labour market’ A modest rise in recruitment has encouraged those in employment to have confidence to seek their next position. This is increasing competition for those out of employment and increasingly pitching employed and unemployed against each other in a two speed jobs market. Employers on the other hand face a different challenge, ensuring their companies are prepared for growth when the economy does make the forecasted turnaround. Those employers that cut staffing levels extensively are taking a close look at the core skills needed in new hires to support growth once the economic recovery takes hold. When the economy blossoms again it will be those businesses who maintained operational effectiveness and customer care that will be first out of the blocks. An interesting development is that there has been growth in demand for interim managers overseas. It is important to remember that some economies in Asia, the Middle East and South America have not been as badly affected by the recession as Western economies. Migrating for work has become part of Ireland’s history and so it is of no surprise that Northern Irish workers are not fazed by moving to another country for employment. The concern for employers here, however, is that the exodus of talent leaving Northern Ireland will have a significant long-term impact on the Northern Irish labour market. Looking ahead, the imminent threat of public sector spending cuts is changing the face of the local employment market in a manner not seen since the decline of heavy manufacturing in the 1970s. While the private sector looks geared for growth the necessity for government and financial institutions to take very real and immediate action to support this growth is becoming paramount. The EU’s Agency Workers Directive (AWD) which was approved by the EU Parliament in October 2008 is likely to have one of the biggest impacts on the Recruitment and Employment industry as it puts temporary agency workers on equal terms with permanent workers with regard to pay and conditions. This legislation needs careful consideration to avoid putting jobs at risk and so that it does not cause legal problems for employers or employees. Overall the major difference between this recession and previous ones is that the recovery is expected to be slow and drawn out, therefore, the recovery in the economy will not bring immediate relief to the employment and recruitment market. Those sectors which look likely set to grow include pharmaceuticals, IT, engineering and the emerging green and renewable sector. The positive news is that the recruitment and employment market will claw back lost ground incrementally and we are beginning to see encouraging signs of growth, which put simply is refreshingly good news for all concerned.

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