Gaining skills is one thing but students must ensure that it results in the job they really want Jim Morrison, Antal International Owner in Ireland, tells Adrienne Mcgill from the Northern Ireland Chamber of Trade magazine.
Just last month, a survey by The Prince’s Trust revealed that nearly all firms in Northern Ireland fear that a skills shortage could hit their businesses in the next few years.
The charity, which helps disadvantaged young people get into employment, said members of the business community believe that recruiting young people will avert a skills crisis.
Around 89 per cent of businesses surveyed said they believed a skills crisis would hit over the next three years – and many feared a lack of skills could hamper the UK’s economic recovery.
And 45 per cent said they were unable to fill vacancies over the past year because of a lack of skills – and just under one third were frightened that a skills crisis could ultimately cause their business to fold.
There is no doubt that Northern Ireland’s young people have been badly affected by the economic downturn. Despite the gradual recovery, youth unemployment remains above 20 per cent.
The Prince’s Trust said it was calling on employers to invest in vocational training for unemployed people to avoid future skills shortages and create jobs.
Jim Morrison, Managing Partner of Antal Executive Recruitment in Ireland, believes that the skills crisis starts with many young people choosing a course without thinking, first of all, about the career they would ultimately like to follow.
“The feed back that I have got from young people going into higher education to gain HNCs and HNDs is that quite a number drop out of a course in the first two or three months.
“They decide at an early stage that this is not the course for them because it will not qualify them for the career they really wanted. This is where the problem begins.
“This puts colleges under strain in terms of offering courses which don’t have the sufficient numbers of students to make them sustainable.
“It is therefore vitally important to establish from an early outset how students want to develop as people and what career path they want to follow.
“Young people require an extra boost to help them understand themselves a bit better and how they will fit into the workplace. Do they want to lead? Do they want to follow? Do they want to work in a dynamic fast moving environment or at a more measured pace.
“If young people understand themselves, that will put them in a better place to choose a course with the right focus.
“A young person needs to identify why a particular career will suit him/her – rather than deciding this is what I think I would like to do.”
Skills have been recognised as fundamental to long-term growth and prosperity, and the Northern Ireland Executive has placed the issue at the heart of the Economic Strategy for Northern Ireland with a particular focus on key sectors such as ICT, Advanced Engineering and Food and Drink. It is envisaged that such a vision will help Northern Ireland plan for and ensure mechanisms are in place to meet the skills needs of employers and individuals both now and in the future.
Mr Morrison’s executive recruitment company is responsible for matching job candidates with an employer who needs their specific skills and attributes.
“I have to match the ability, skills and qualifications of a particular candidate with the requirements of a client. It is not always easy. A prospective job candidate who is looking for a new challenge may be trying to take a giant step rather than working their way towards a new position in two or three steps. There may be issues around their salary expectation or the type of company they want to work for. They may be setting their goals too high at an early stage.”
Mr Morrison’s comments follow the sudden announcement by Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry that the expansion of the Ulster University campus in Londonderry is “off the table for the indefinite future” and that plans to have a total of 1,000 new undergraduate places by next year have been shelved. Despite a major backlash, the Minister insisted he had no other choice due to the fact that his department faced budget cuts of £34m. The department he said faced an in-year cut of 4.4 per cent and the universities would have to take a share of that.
Jim Morrison wonders how can the economy grow if the necessary pool of young talent have had their futures blighted because of funding cuts in education?
“Society is changing along with the skill sets that are being required by employers. Education is a critical part of this,” he adds.