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Developing relevant skills and using them effectively is crucial for Northern Ireland’s ability to thrive in an increasingly interconnected and rapidly changing world.

In recent years, Northern Ireland has made significant progress in strengthening its skills system, and economic, and social performance. However, there will be significant challenges in the short- to medium-term in the wake of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, with inevitable increases in the unemployment rate, significant detrimental impacts to health, and reduced demand for goods and services. COVID-19 is uniquely disruptive, by reducing supply through upsetting existing supply chains and halting production, as well as reducing demand by causing a steep drop in consumption and confidence. In a rapidly changing environment, it is difficult to quantify at this time the exact magnitude of the impact on Northern Ireland’s economy, since the recovery will depend on many factors, including the magnitude and duration of Northern Ireland’s shutdown, the extent of reduced demand for goods and services in other parts of the economy, and the speed at which significant fiscal and monetary policy support takes effect.

This disruption will accelerate certain trends identified in this report, such as digitalisation, as individuals are forced to learn and work remotely. On the other hand, other trends may be decelerated, such as globalisation, due to reductions in migration and consumption. Moreover, COVID-19 will lead to higher levels of unemployment and economic inactivity, as workers are laid-off from businesses which are struggling to remain afloat, or which are forced to close entirely. The resulting changes in behaviour and consumption, in turn, have the potential to impact on where the jobs of the future lie, and by extension, the skills requirements to undertake these jobs. In this context, a resilient and responsive skills system has the potential to have a significant role to play in Northern Ireland’s economic recovery.

In recent years, Northern Ireland already implemented a range of strategies and reforms to create a skills architecture capable of addressing many of these challenges. Building on a tradition of skills strategies, including the 2011-2020 overarching strategy Success through Skills - Transforming Futures, Northern Ireland is currently developing a new skills strategy. This report, together with a number of other recent studies and evaluations, will be one of the main inputs for this new strategy. The OECD worked collaboratively with Northern Ireland to develop policy responses which are tailored to specific skills challenges and needs. The process involved detailed analysis and widespread engagement with over 200 stakeholders, leading to the several recommendations outlined in this report.

The OECD stands ready to support Northern Ireland further, particularly in light of the enormous challenges now emerging as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it seeks to implement effective skills policies and continues its transition to a knowledge-based economy and society.

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