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Skills Barometer

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment and Learning – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin 2:00 pm, 19th January 2016

3. Mr McCartney asked the Minister for Employment and Learning for an update on the skills barometer. (AQO 9407/11-16)

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

The skills barometer was launched on 12 November 2015 at, strangely enough, Belfast Met and is the result of work that the Ulster University economic policy centre completed on behalf of my Department. Skills mismatches are often cited as a key barrier to economic growth. I was, therefore, keen to ensure that the Department and the wider Executive had the most robust and up-to-date information on skills requirements, thereby enabling policymakers and educationalists to make informed choices about the allocation of funds and initiatives.

The skills barometer is innovative, groundbreaking and something that we should be very proud of. It provides a detailed understanding of the skills requirements of our economy up to 2025, with forecasts of supply and demand. Importantly, the barometer provides the Department with a level of detail and sophistication that no other macroeconomic model has been able to provide. A key feature is its flexibility as a policymaking tool that can be adjusted to take account of changes in order to understand the skills implications of different policy measures.

The results indicate that, under the higher economic growth that accompanies a lower rate of corporation tax, there will be a significant undersupply of skills in the economy as a whole. Extra investment in skills is required to meet the shortfall, and the barometer estimates the size of this requirement. The results indicate a strong need for people with intermediate and graduate-level skills, particularly in science, technology, engineering and maths-related subjects, reflecting the anticipated growth in ICT, professional services and advanced manufacturing.

The barometer will be updated annually to ensure that forecasts are based on the latest data. However, there is the ability to update it more frequently to take account of any unforeseen circumstances.

Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an fhreagra sin. I thank the Minister for a very comprehensive and good overview of the skills barometer. He identified that, perhaps in a strange way, the report found an oversupply and an undersupply of skills. Will he outline the steps that the Department is taking to address both scenarios?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

There are probably fairly few areas in which there is an over-provision at present. It might be the case with particular university subjects — there are some broader areas. I would say with a degree of hesitation — I am not particularly looking to open up another debate — that teaching is one area in which there is an oversupply at present. There are clear pressure points in science and technology and in nursing. It is interesting to note that one of the top five areas is manufacturing, despite a lot of bad news over the past number of months about redundancies. That reinforces the point that Northern Ireland still has a very strong future in manufacturing. Indeed, there are future pressure points. We estimate growth in manufacturing over the coming years.

I stress to the Member the importance of ensuring that we have sufficient investment in skills to meet the demands. I want to put on record my appreciation to the Finance Minister for providing an additional resource for skills for the future Department for the Economy. That will make some difference. However, I also want to stress that there is a very long way to go in ensuring that we have a sufficiently strong skills base and skills pipeline to ensure that we meet the full demands of the economy, particularly in the context of a lower level of corporation tax.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

Will the Minister update the House on the work of the financial services academy to provide people with the skills necessary to gain employment in the growing financial services sector? How many jobs has his Assured Skills programme managed to deliver?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

First, with Assured Skills generally, my Department, as Members know, works in conjunction with Invest Northern Ireland on its programmes. Obviously, skills are a key component in how we attract and sustain investment in Northern Ireland, so it is important that we have that skills narrative and, more importantly, that we have the tools to respond effectively and provide the particular skills that investing companies require. We can put in place a number of particular programmes for companies and for sectors. In that regard, we have rolled out a number of academies over the past number of years. Having started by focusing on ICT, the academies are spreading to different ranges of activity. Indeed, the area of financial services is one that we are doing some work on currently. Overall, we have supported the creation of several thousand jobs across Northern Ireland through Assured Skills over the past number of years, and the Assured Skills programme will come into its own in the context of the lower rate of corporation tax.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:15 pm, 19th January 2016

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Mo bhuíochas leis an Aire. I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he clarify the way in which the skills barometer and associated data is shared with businesses?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

The Member makes an important point. The skills barometer is not simply a tool for government. However, I stress, in that context, that evidence-based policymaking is critical, and we now have a very strong skills evidence base. The barometer is also there to be used by businesses and, indeed, by students, parents and other stakeholders in society when they are planning for the future. It is available for businesses in how they can relate to where emerging skilling requirements will be in the economy. I also highlight the importance of young people using the skills barometer as part of their careers engagement to see where opportunities lie. People will have their own interests and passions, but it is important that young people make informed choices. We want to try to encourage as many young people as possible to build their futures in Northern Ireland and, in doing so, to study in the areas that will be most relevant to the future of the economy.

Photo of Adrian Cochrane-Watson Adrian Cochrane-Watson UUP

Thank you, Minister, for your responses to date. Are you convinced that the new proposed Department for the Economy will recognise the benefits of, and utilise, the skills barometer?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I have no reason to doubt that that will be the case. The creation of the new Department for the Economy is a very sensible measure. Indeed, it has been supported by virtually every party in the House, including the Member's party. It is important that we bring all the different levers and programmes that support our economy under one roof. While there is some very strong cooperation between my Department and DETI and Invest Northern Ireland at present, you will always get a certain lack of synergy from having separate Departments and separate Ministers. There should be an improvement through everything coming under one Minister and one Department.

Obviously, skills will be at the heart of our future economic model, no matter what way you look at it, and it is important that we have evidence-based policymaking, as I stressed when I responded to the previous question. The skills barometer provides that. We have had great interest in the skills barometer from a wide range of stakeholders and, indeed, from other Departments. The message is very clear and understood, not just across the Northern Ireland Civil Service but across our civic society as a whole.

Photo of Claire Sugden Claire Sugden Independent

How have the FE colleges and the two universities responded to the skills barometer in providing skills identified?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

The colleges and universities are using the skills barometer to plan future provision, and that will play an increasing role as we look ahead, particularly in the context of tight and scarce resources. It is important that all our education and training suppliers are using their resources as smartly as they possibly can. As I said previously during Question Time, we have already seen a rebalancing of the offering in our colleges and universities, and that is set to continue as we look ahead. Universities serve a broader role than simply being the providers of graduates for particular jobs. They have a much wider function in supporting civic society and supporting learning and knowledge, but it is important that they appreciate their role in supporting the economy and that they seek to maximise provision in that direction.