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Skills gap challenge for businesses in Northern Ireland

A stack of the Business Barometer reports in hardcopy
  • The Open University’s annual Business Barometer 2021 report reveals nearly three quarters (69%) of Northern Ireland businesses believe there is a skills shortage in their organisation. That’s the highest % of any region of the UK (67% in England, 60% in Wales, 63% in Scotland).
  • The report published in conjunction with the Institute of Directors also showed that over half (59%) of Northern Ireland businesses say Covid-19 has made it harder to hire candidates with the right skills while Brexit uncertainty has made a third (32%) not hire for vacant roles.
  • Going forward, Northern Ireland businesses believe these factors will continue to dominate recruitment, with Covid-19 disruption (57%) and Brexit (43%) being predicted to have the biggest impact on skills within the next 12 months

John D’Arcy, Ireland Director of The Open University said: “Our survey showed that strategies to help remedy this situation are already in place and in the past 12 months, nearly half (43%) of Northern Ireland businesses have introduced training to boost the employees’ skills to meet the organisation’s needs. However, clearly there’s more to do as nearly half (44%) have left a position vacant because they could not find a suitable candidate”.

“The Open University is able to flexibly support the economy and businesses in Northern Ireland, for example, fully funded Open University courses are available at the start of 2022 as part of the Northern Ireland Executive’s Skill Up initiative, target up-skilling and re-skilling opportunities across a variety of priority economic areas.”

The report showed a variety of solutions are being explored by businesses in Northern Ireland:

  • Over half (56%) plan on increasing spending on training in the next 12 months
  • Two thirds (66%) are trying to make their workplace more diverse and inclusive
  • Nearly a third (30%) are actively trying to recruit candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds

Based on a survey amongst 1,500 senior organisation leaders and 208 businesses in Northern Ireland, The Business Barometer report is a temperature check on the UK’s business landscape across a multitude of different nations, regions and sectors.

Kirsty McManus Director of the Institute of Directors Northern Ireland said: “A shortage of skills or accessing talent are consistently among the most common concerns raised with us by our members."

“The COVID-19 pandemic and issues related to the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol are clearly impacting recruitment, as this survey finds."

“A collective approach between the business community, the education sector and government is required to respond to these challenges and create a joined up skills framework that enables our economy to flourish.”


To read the annual Business Barometer report visit:

A picture of Christine Murphy who has fair curly hair and is smiling and wearing a white jumper

For media enquiries please contact:

Christine Murphy, Communications Manager

Tel 028 9053 6219