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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008, 06:25 GMT
Record employment growth for NI
By Seamus Boyd
BBC News

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100,000 more people are in employment now than in 1998
Northern Ireland has experienced a record growth in employment in the 10 years since the Good Friday Agreement.

Government figures show that 100,000 more people are employed now than in 1998, with a total of 782,000 in work.

In the same period, unemployment has fallen from 63,000 (8.1%) to 34,000 (4.2%).

In the past decade, the construction industry has shown dramatic growth, but the manufacturing sector experienced the loss of 18,000 jobs since 1998.

Some of the decline in manufacturing jobs is due to the erosion of traditional industries such as textiles.

Another key factor has been a steady growth in productivity.

There may be widespread agreement of the existence of a feelgood factor in Northern Ireland, but behind the statistics lies the fact that pay hasn't grown to match the upward employment curve.

More people have jobs, but the average income earned remains significantly behind that of Great Britain at 81% of the UK average, a figure that causes concern to Frank Bryan, chairman of the Institute of Directors in Northern Ireland.

"Yes, progress has been made but we have very serious worries about the quality of employment on offer. We have graduates coming out of our education system and being underemployed, poorly paid and not being given the opportunities to fully utilise their talents," he said.

"Sometimes it suits the British government to point at the figures and say the job is done but there are severe weaknesses in our employment structure.

"The local executive is coming up with some well-thought out strategies, but realistically it could be five years before we see the benefits coming through," Mr Bryan said.

The Federation of Small Businesses, which represents more than 7,000 members in Northern Ireland, says maintaining economic growth will require some key areas to be addressed.

Its chairman, Wilfred Mitchell, points to issues such as the need for rates relief and for a reduction in what he describes as "over zealous rules and regulations".

"This mountain of red tape is hampering many business owners who are spending up to seven hours a week dealing with many complicated financial and legal matters when they could be concentrating on running and possibly expanding their business," he said.

Mr Mitchell also believes a large investment is needed in Northern Ireland's roads infrastructure.

"While we applaud the excellent and much needed upgrades on the M1 and M2, these investments need to be made across our roads system to ensure better, safer and more efficient links for business."

Ten years of NI's economic growth
18 Mar 08 |  Northern Ireland

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