Appropriate skills essential to unlocking IT sector potential

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AS the dust settles on exam results, and schools and colleges gear up for a new term, it feels like a good time to reflect on the skills situation in one of our hottest sectors.

It can’t have escaped your notice that over the past number of years, the IT sector in Northern Ireland has been one of the fastest growing sectors across the whole economy, averaging 3.7 per cent growth per annum between 2012 and 2019. This compares favourably to the economy as a whole, where growth for the same period was 1.7 per cent per annum.

The IT sector currently employs around 25,100 people here, and about a quarter of these jobs have been added since the last big recession.

This rapid growth, coupled with inward investment successes, and an emerging global reputation in the sector, particularly in areas such as cyber security, has seen the sector identified as a key growth sector for the economy. So much so that the cyber security sector and the IT sector have been cited as part of the ‘New Decade New Approach’ and the ‘10x Economy’ strategies as key/priority clusters.

The Department for the Economy aims for these sectors to become global leaders. The importance of the IT sector has become even stronger as a result of the pandemic, with many firms seeing higher levels of IT investment as a result of home working. TechNation found that Northern Ireland-based tech firms had raised £45.6 million in 2020, a record level, despite the ongoing pandemic.

It’s not all plain sailing for the sector however, with skills challenges starting to bite. This is not unique to Northern Ireland, for the UK Employer Skills Survey noted that around 53 per cent of IT respondents stated the main reason for having “hard to fill vacancies” was due to the “low number of applicants with the required skills.”

The strong demand for IT-related jobs has also seen the level of online job postings for IT/computer/software accelerate in recent weeks/months, following an initial lull in job postings at the beginning of lockdown.

The Department for the Economy estimates that there have been between 500 and 700 online job listings in the sector every month this year, mainly in…