NI Job Market Remains Steady but Talent Challenges Persist

Recruitment levels across Northern Ireland have remained steady in the third quarter of 2023, although many organisations continue to experience long-term skills shortages and difficulties when it comes to filling roles.

The ‘NIJobs Job Report with Ulster Bank’ provides timely quarterly data and job listings, offering insight into recruitment trends, the economic environment, and the types of roles job seekers are searching for online. 

Data indicates that the hiring platform experienced a modest pick up in employer activity (+1%) between the second and third quarters of this year. Overall, job listings have remained broadly around the same level throughout 2023, and whilst official Labour market statistics point to a slowdown in Q3, recruitment activity remains encouraging and consistent across many sectors.

Just over half of the 39 employment categories posted a quarterly rise in job listings during the third quarter. Conversely, 17 categories saw a fewer number of job vacancies in Q3 relative to the previous quarter.

Construction recorded its highest level of vacancies to date and Skilled Trades also recorded many available roles. Despite both sectors experiencing demand, there are longstanding vacancies in Construction and Skilled Trades listings, with these more than double pre-pandemic levels.

The workers most in demand with construction employers were Graduate Civil Engineer, Plumbing and Heating Engineer followed by Conservation Officer. These roles recorded the largest year-on-year increases in an analysis of construction vacancies available on NIJobs. Meanwhile, in the Skilled Trade category, most in demand were Maintenance Operative, Maintenance Technicians and Mechanical Fitter roles respectively.

Pictured Sam Dooley, Country Director of The Stepstone Group Ireland, Irish Fennell Photography 2023

Sam Dooley, Country Director of The Stepstone Group Ireland with responsibility for NIJobs, says; “Ongoing talent shortages remain a challenge for employers in Northern Ireland despite sectors actively recruiting. There are a number of contributing factors to this problem, including post pandemic recovery, demographic changes, and shifting ways of working.

“Our advice to employers is to focus on your key goals over a set period and identify business critical roles that you will need to reach these objectives. This will allow you to clearly identify where skills shortages exist within your organisation and will also give a clear path of what skillsets are required for future success.

“It’s never been more important to hire and retain talent in the current climate. Upskilling your existing workforce is a good starting point. It’s also worth remembering that employees will want to see more than monetary value placed on their role now. Offering flexibility in work models alongside other incentives such as extra annual leave or wellbeing support or initiatives can attract and retain staff long-term,” he adds.

Providing his own take on the data from Q3, Ulster Bank’s Chief Economist Richard Ramsey says: “While there have been signs that the local labour market has been weakening in the third quarter this was less evident within recruitment activity.

“Logistics posted the largest quarterly rise in numerical terms of all the employment categories followed by Social Care, Cleaning, Management, Administration and Accountancy. But IT recorded the biggest fall in advertised vacancies in numerical terms with listings falling by 24% q/q in Q3 2023.

“Outside of the pandemic, the IT sector posted the fewest number of job listings since the series began in Q1 2019. IT was one of only four categories to have fewer vacancies than during the corresponding pre-pandemic quarter four years ago. Education, Security and Farming and Agriculture were the other three categories. Education has seen its number of vacancies fall in each of the last nine quarters.   

“A variety of sectors have seen hiring activity come off the boil. Finance, Manufacturing and Legal vacancies all fell to nine-quarter lows in the three months to September. Meanwhile, Marketing and Banking vacancies eased to their lowest levels in 10 and 11 quarters respectively.

“Three employment categories recorded their highest number of vacancies to date.  These were Construction, Arts and Entertainment, and Travel. Despite subdued demand, construction firms are still recruiting hard to fill longstanding vacancies.  The number of construction vacancies in the third quarter of 2023 was more than double that of the corresponding period in 2019. Skilled Trades remain in short supply too with the level of vacancies more than double pre-pandemic levels. Skilled Trades remained the third largest category for job vacancies after Catering (ranked no. 2) and Management (ranked no.1).

He adds; “Northern Ireland, like economies elsewhere, faces a labour supply crunch.  Demographic trends, such as an ageing population, point to an increasing shortfall of available workers. Meanwhile, the legacy of Covid and deteriorating health outcomes is shrinking the supply of workers further. Throw in the new ways of working / post-covid lifestyle choices and employers are experiencing severe shortages in labour.

“Solutions on attracting more migrants from abroad and/or replacing labour with machines (automation) are required sooner rather than later.  Attracting migrants is increasingly being hindered by the lack of affordable rental properties.  The stock of available rental properties has halved since the pandemic with rents soaring. Filling a job vacancy will increasingly be dependent on finding affordable accommodation. The housing and labour supply crunches are becoming more and more intertwined.”

Construction Jobs in Demand

  1. Quantity Surveyor
  2. Site Manager
  3. 3 Fire Security Engineer.
  4. Estimator
  5. 5.Health & Safety officer.

Skilled Trades in demand

  1. Operative
  2. 2.Technician/Mechanic
  3. Electrician
  4. Maintenance Technician
  5. Joiner