‘Tapping into non-traditional labour pools’, by Roisin McKee, HATS.

The need for an inclusive labour market has never been more pressing. With a tightening talent landscape and persistent economic inactivity, businesses and policymakers alike are recognising the immense potential of untapped talent pools. This was the central theme of the recent “Building an Inclusive Labour Market: opportunities, challenges and solutions” conference held at Ulster University, led by Belfast City Council in partnership with the Department for Communities, Belfast Labour Market Partnership and NICVA.

The opportunity for sizeable untapped workforce

Northern Ireland, like many regions, faces the challenge of 303,000 individuals classified as economically inactive. This group encompasses those not actively seeking work or unavailable for paid employment, including students, retirees, and individuals facing health or caregiving responsibilities. However, within this group lies a significant reserve of potential talent: nearly 50,000 individuals expressing a desire to re-enter the workforce.

Key takeaways for businesses:

  • Embrace age diversity: Over 40% of the inactive population are above 50, highlighting the need for flexible work arrangements, remote work options, and supportive workplace policies to cater to their needs and preferences.
  • Women as a key talent pool: Women represent a significant portion of the inactive population, presenting a valuable opportunity to bridge the gender gap and tap into their skills and experience.
  • Leverage local partnerships: Numerous organisations and initiatives, like local Labour Market Partnerships and employment academies, are actively supporting individuals in finding jobs. Businesses can collaborate with these partners to access talent pools through work experience programmes, job tasters, and targeted recruitment initiatives.
  • Sector-specific pathway: Bespoke academy programmes tailored to specific sectors can provide valuable entry points for individuals seeking to re-enter the workforce. Employer involvement in designing these programmes is crucial to ensure alignment with industry needs and skills gaps.
  • Collaboration is key: Building an inclusive labour market requires collective effort and collaboration among businesses, government agencies, support organisations, and educational institutions.

News and trends for 2024 and beyond

The conversation around inclusive labour markets is evolving rapidly, with new initiatives and trends emerging in 2024:

Focus on mental health and wellbeing – recognising the impact of mental health on economic inactivity, programmes supporting individuals with mental health challenges are gaining traction.

Reskilling and upskilling – the rise of automation and technological advancements necessitates continuous skills development. Programmes providing reskilling and upskilling opportunities for individuals seeking to re-enter the workforce are becoming increasingly important.

Remote work revolution – the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote work arrangements. This trend presents significant opportunities for individuals facing geographical or mobility limitations, further contributing to labour market inclusivity.

Women breaking barriers in tourism & hospitality

A collaborative effort between HATS and the Women Breaking Barriers Project aims to challenge perceptions within the tourism and hospitality industry and introduce their client base of women seeking to return to the workplace to potential employers. This effort exemplifies the power of collaboration inbreaking down barriers and fostering inclusivity.

Conclusion

Building an inclusive labour market is not just an ethical imperative, but also a strategic one. By embracing diverse talent pools, businesses can unlock new growth opportunities, enhance innovation, and build amore resilient workforce. The ongoing dialogue and collaborative efforts, as showcased in the “Building an Inclusive Labour Market” conference and initiatives like the Women Breaking Barriers Project, pave the way for a more equitable and prosperous future for all.

Presentation slides from the Belfast City Council plenary sessions can be found HERE.

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