Norman's News - Northern Ireland’s growing Knowledge Economy; how to speed it up?

Added Wednesday, November 8 2017

The 2017 Knowledge Economy report, sponsored by Bank of Ireland UK and produced for us by Ulster University’s Centre for Economic Policy, is to be published in January 2018 and will be the subject of our first ever Future of Work in Northern Ireland Solutions Summit taking place on 28 February 2018.

For the last four years we have been the second fastest growing knowledge economy in the UK but in each case, to a different region and arguably after they had received a major fillip to support its knowledge economy, exclusively.

The most salient difference is in scale; our 2016 report showed that 10% of our economy, 40,000 direct jobs and the same number downstream, are dependent on the knowledge economy. Most importantly of all, these jobs are well paid and their productivity is earned largely (over 80%) from sales outside the region. The late Margaret Thatcher’s Holy Grail, I seem to recall; other nations paying our taxes!

So how do we scale and accelerate the growth of our knowledge economy?

The answer is clear. While the politicians fight and the diplomats negotiate, we in the knowledge economy should do more, much more! We have a clear aptitude for innovation. I hope you watched the second BBC series of “Made in Northern Ireland” and understand the significance of what you are seeing and will consider it a call to action for the future of the place we love and for all the people in it. If you’ve a taste for more, check out our TechWatch blog.

One of the biggest challenges to our economy is coming from Intelligent Automation. While predictions vary on the speed and scale of disruption that will be caused from the impact of automation, there is no other factor that will impact Northern Ireland’s ability to achieve our employment targets between now and 2030. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, put it like this in his book The Fourth Industrial Revolution:

“We are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity, what I consider to be the fourth industrial revolution is unlike anything human kind has experienced before.”

Our 2017 Knowledge Economy report will feature the results of research into the impact of automation specifically in NI. Using this as a platform, our Future of Work in Northern Ireland Solutions Summit in February 2018, will ensure that business leaders have an engaging forum in which they can learn about the opportunities and threats from automation and identify solutions that they can take forward to take advantage from it. Including, how we must develop our workforce to be more resilient to change and give our young people a massive advantage in how they meet the new world of work.

Every person who reads this column has a role to play, as parent, grandparent, teacher, governor, voter or young person. The skill of the knowledge economy is knowledge itself, the ability to acquire it, to communicate it, to use it to innovate proactively and reactively as new products and services impinge on every workplace and organisation with which we’re involved.

Sitting on hands or fences as many of us do in other matters political, is not good enough in this one; we have all got to become Knowledge-Economy activists, Knowledgistas perhaps!

For more information on our Future of Work in Northern Ireland Solutions Summit, which is taking place on 28th February 2018, please go to