Future skills in Northern Ireland

  • 15 April 2024
  • Business, Education, Technology
  • Sarah Jones, Futures, Research & Development Unit, Matrix NI

What is Matrix?

Matrix is an influential advisory panel in Northern Ireland (NI), designed to advise government and liaise with academia and the industrial sector. Its main goal is to drive economic growth by emphasising the critical role of science and technology and the economic opportunities it can bring. The panel, composed of top business and academic leaders, focuses on futures and foresight-based research that informs science and R&D policies.

NI Future Skills

Matrix’s most recent report, “Future Skills: Scenarios for the NI Economy” was published on 11 April 2024. This landmark study provides a comprehensive analysis of the evolving skills landscape in Northern Ireland.  The report is launched in a context where skills, or the lack thereof, are frequently cited as a major challenge for businesses across the region.

Scenario planning is a process that helps policy makers explore alternative ways that factors such as technology might shape the economy and workforce in the future. The Matrix Future Skills report outlines a set of four such scenarios that explore how technology and access to skills might shape NI’s regional competitiveness. The report goes on to use the scenarios to test NI’s current technology and science capabilities and determines areas of excellence where it has competitive edge and resilience. The report also identifies the specific future skills that NI will require to capitalise on these opportunities and examines the challenges and opportunities for achieving innovation, inclusion and sustainability across the scenarios and the implications for policy.

Mark Huddleston, Chair of the report’s steering group, Managing Director of jheSolutions, and member of the Matrix panel, shares in the report foreword, “Northern Ireland stands at a pivotal juncture, with our young demographic and high levels of entrepreneurial graduates setting the stage for significant advancements in science and technology.” Mark further outlines the report’s objective to illuminate diverse scenarios impacting socio-economic landscapes, driven by emerging skills needs.

It should be noted that the only aspect of the scenarios that is certain is that the future will not look like any one of them – it will be a combination of some of the elements they describe and other elements that have not yet been thought about. The scenarios are not, therefore, meant to be ‘right’, but to offer interesting (and in some cases challenging, stretching or controversial) pictures of the future. They provide a space where leaders can explore the dynamics of change and can rehearse the policy choices and decisions they are likely to face on the path to success.


The report draws six broad conclusions from the analysis of future skills requirements and the scenario modelling:

• Core skills in technology sectors are changing constantly

• Socio-emotional skills are key to future strategic adaptability

• The Digital, ICT and Creative Industries cluster is in the top two most important clusters in all scenarios

• Other clusters vary in importance across different scenarios and NI needs to strengthen its strategic foresight capability to anticipate change

• NI’s technology focus may be too broad and may need to be narrowed

• Government and business may need to work more closely with Further Education and Higher Education to shape the future technology skills pipeline

The reports analysis is further informed by the wider strategic change and uncertainty the world faces in the next 10 years and beyond. The report pays particular significance to the climate and nature crisis, demographic changes, global shifts in economic and political power from west to east and north to south and digital and AI-powered technologies. It is clear that, technology, in general, will play a huge role in the world’s collective response to these challenges. In order to be a lead actor - and to prepare for and navigate through the economic disruption these forces will create - Northern Ireland needs to invest in developing and deploying the strategic skills it will require for future success throughout the economy.

The Future Skills: Scenarios for the NI Economy report aims to spark dialogue and action towards developing a resilient, future-ready workforce in Northern Ireland.

You can download the full report from our library HERE.