Views and announcements

Levelling Up is a prime opportunity to cement Northern Ireland as a tech trailblazer

  •  Written by Mark Owens, Managing Director at Civica NI

    With the worst of the pandemic hopefully now behind us, the UK Government’s Levelling Up agenda could not be timelier.

    Two years of Covid turmoil have taken their toll on our economy, with a sharp decline in output and substantial job losses. As we rebuild our economy, it makes sense for the government to help each region play to its strengths and in Northern Ireland, our tech sector is top among these. 

    A smarter economy needs skilled people 

    Despite its relatively small size and population, Northern Ireland is a tech trailblazer. We’re Europe's number one destination for FDI in new software development and around one in four jobs advertised in NI last year were digital tech roles, a higher number than anywhere else in the UK. The software sector alone employs over 30,000 people, earning more than the national average. But despite these advantages, we run the very real risk of losing our edge. While our region offers fantastic opportunities to those seeking a career in the technology and software industries, the supply of skilled experts simply isn’t keeping pace. 

    For this reason, I’m particularly encouraged to see such a strong focus on skills in the Levelling Up White Paper. The Government’s target to increase the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training across the UK by 2030 will be pivotal to ensuring that Northern Ireland remains attractive for tech investors and graduates alike. Industry must, of course, play its part also.  At Civica, we work with schools across Northern Ireland, promoting software as an exciting career choice and our NorthStar innovation lab offers opportunities for apprentices, sponsored students, and graduates to work on ideas using data and automation that can create the future of public services.

    Data – the foundation for success 

    While skills will be critical to fuelling the Levelling Up agenda, data is key to ensuring that it is built on the right foundations. Making sure that all the UK’s nations and regions get to share in the spoils of economic growth is no easy task, as the Levelling Up White Paper acknowledges. But one thing we can be certain of is that success will hinge on the quality of the decisions that are made, whether these be on large scale investments or smaller, more targeted measures. And good decision-making depends, above all, on data.

    Given the complexity of the UK’s governance arrangements, its perhaps no surprise that harnessing data to drive better, smarter decision-making has long been a challenge. But the good news is that the solution is relatively straightforward. In Civica, we call this the 3Ss – Standards Skills and Sharing.

    Standards: Robust, consistent rules for the collection and management of data will ensure that public bodies from Whitehall to Belfast City Hall are better able to understand and interpret crucial information without having to constantly check what it means or where it came from. 

    Skills: People with the skills and confidence to be able to interpret and use that data effectively, can make smarter, more informed decisions.

    Sharing: Data will never deliver to its true potential unless it is easily accessible, when and where it is needed most. Data, no matter how high quality, is of no use to those making crucial decisions in support of the regions if it is sitting idle on a sever in London or elsewhere. 


    With offices from Belfast to Bristol, Civica knows first-hand what the regions have to offer. Here in Northern Ireland, homegrown innovative software like the CovidCertNI app have ensured we can live better, safer lives despite the global pandemic. With the right focus and investment, from government and industry alike, we can secure Northern Ireland’s future as a powerhouse of innovation. 

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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