The Conservatives have raised concerns that Northern Ireland’s skills gap has the potential to derail the economic growth promised by corporation tax reduction.
Speaking after a tour of the Thales plant in East Belfast, with Sir Gerald Howarth MP, the former Minister for Security Strategies, Neil said: “When it comes to the type of highly skilled jobs we want to create, specialisms such as systems engineering are crucial.”
Figures for 2013 indicated that 19% of all vacancies in Northern Ireland existed because of the skills shortfall. Neil believes that if unchecked this has the potential to be disastrous.
Neil said: “Thales is a great, dynamic company, providing 450 highly skilled jobs in East Belfast, and the employees are experts in their field. The technology they create is so important in allowing countries to protect themselves, and their equipment has already been deployed by the armed forces of 50 countries across the world.”
Thales is world-renowned for developing Starstreak, a portable air defence system which includes the fastest short range surface-to-air missile in existence and is in use across the globe.
Neil continued: “People with skills like electronics, software and mechanical engineering are essential for the continued expansion of businesses like Thales.
“So many young people feel the need to leave Northern Ireland for further education and better job opportunities. The opportunities in Belfast at dynamic companies like Thales have the potential to be endless, so long as we begin to prioritise STEM subjects.”