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Job market analysis: Confidence is key

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Rebecca Kincade on February 24, 2015 - 10:00 am in In Depth

Neal Lucas of Neal Lucas Recruitment gives his analysis on the NI job market and what we can expect from 2015. 

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Neal Lucas

For the past six years, there has been an acute interest in the condition of the NI job market and not a week has gone by during this period when I am not questioned about both its current and future condition.

The local job market has evolved, particularly in the past four years. In 2010, we experienced a slowdown in what I call the job market churn, i.e. roles created by people moving onwards or upwards in their career as opposed to new roles being created by new or growing organisations.

The impact of this is stagnation in the market, where people become frustrated by the lack of opportunity and either they leave the market altogether by moving away or putting their careers on hold until the market begins to move again.

Things started to look up in 2013 when confidence returned to the market. Do not underestimate the power of good news stories in the media. The result of this was that 2014 was a very strong year in terms of new employment opportunities. As this general confidence increased, people started to move and this continued right through into the early part of the fourth quarter last year.


Although the indicators for 2015 were looking positive for another strong year. Anecdotally, there is a sense that uncertainty is beginning to creep in again and things are starting to level out, with that ‘churn’ once again slowing down. That being said, the job market is still very much thriving compared to 2010-2012 levels, when recruitment experienced a particularly challenging time.

Another characteristic of the job market during this time was indecision. Recruitment processes were taking longer to complete and often dissipated rather than reaching a positive conclusion for all. This was down to both uncertainty from employers and that lack of confidence from candidates in the job market.

For big employers and companies who are making decisions on recruitment, the easiest, quickest and cheapest option for them is to enhance and expand their current resources – whether that be in the form of retraining current staff to teach new skills, changing current job descriptions and restructuring – during a time of economic uncertainty, this was certainly a sensible and common option for many.

However, this ‘making do’ approach can inhibit progress, as a key requirement for growth is to continually strengthen and refresh the management talent pool, often by bringing in fresh talent and people with the skillset, mind set and experience to fulfil the specific requirements and really drive value to the company.

Recruitment process

Another trend in the job market which has really changed over the years is the recruitment process itself. Employers are much more particular when it comes to finding the right candidate. Candidates are scrutinised to a far greater degree than they would have been three or four years ago.

Unfortunately, this is something which hasn’t hit home with many candidates yet. Too often candidates do not spend the appropriate amount of time ensuring their CVs, application forms and interview skills are up to scratch. Competition is rife and it is imperative to hone these skills if you are looking for employment. All too often employers complain that candidates are not up to the standard they require and finding the right person can be difficult, resulting in decisions being taken against recruiting and ‘making do’.

Last year we witnessed a sustained period of activity since before the recession and it was a welcome boost for all senior level candidates who had seen their opportunities limited over recent years.

Like for like

In terms of employment opportunities currently, Northern Ireland is not a bad place to be at all. Although we are small, like for like salaries are only approximately 10-15% less here than in GB. The private sector is thriving with a boom in SMEs however, what we are lacking in is lager corporate positions.

All too often I see skilled candidates moving across the water in order to progress their career and take the next step. I always encourage candidates to progress to positions which will see them grow, enhance their skills and help them to achieve their career goals. The problem with this is that when they look to return home, there are not always appropriate executive jobs suitable for them to come back to.

This is why we need big companies with big jobs, so that Northern Ireland’s exiles have a reason to come home. If companies can get the message out that their activity is up and confidence is high, then this will filter through to the candidates, who in turn will start to consider moves.

Following the recent buoyant market and subsequent lag, I expect another sharp rise at some point this calendar year which will hopefully be as sustained as recent upturns.