Northern Ireland faces rising unemployment, sharply reduced foreign investment and Brexit complications, the economy minister has warned.
The sobering assessment is contained in an economic recovery plan published by Diane Dodds.
The plan is intended to tackle the challenges of the next 18 months.
It includes a focus on improving skills and supporting strategically important sectors.
“Our people are our key asset so developing the skills base of our young people and workforce will remain central to our economic success,” said Mrs Dodds.
“We also intend to focus on sectors where there is a potential for growth in higher paying jobs such as life and health sciences, advanced manufacturing, clean energy and big data.”
On Tuesday, official figures showed unemployment in Northern Ireland had risen to its highest level since 1997.
Northern Ireland ‘Prolonged economic downturn’
The report, Rebuilding a Stronger Economy, says it is “inevitable that we are facing a deep and prolonged economic downturn”.
It warns unemployment will keep rising and that foreign direct investment is likely to be greatly reduced in the short and medium term.
It adds that these issues could be could be further compounded by the operation of the NI Protocol and Brexit more generally.
The report says that some of the structural weaknesses of the NI economy will need to be tackled for a sustained recovery.
Those include too few higher-paying jobs, a skills gap and regional imbalances.
The report says that re-skilling people who lose their jobs will need a particular focus.
Northern Ireland ‘Very frightening’
BBC NI’s Good Morning Ulster spoke to two young people about their future prospects.
Niamh, a student at Queen’s University, said that a Youth Forum survey showed that unemployment was a “massive issue” for 20% of young people.
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“There’s just no jobs going and all the people who are working in hospitality – so many young people – hospitality and retail jobs are just gone,” she said
“There’s no way for young people to really make money.”
Adam, who has just finished his A-Levels, said: “We’re looking at a big recession, maybe as bad as ones previous, maybe the worst we’ve ever had.
“So I think we all need to band together and think of supporting each other.
“It is very frightening. The amount of jobs that will be available will drastically reduce.”
Northern Ireland ‘Missed opportunity’
Meanwhile, Mrs Dodds also announced the membership of her Economic Advisory Group: the 11-strong panel, which includes economists and industrialists, will be led by Ellvena Graham, the former head of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland.
However, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance argued Mrs Dodds should have included trade unionists and representatives of the community and voluntary sectors.
Sinn Féin’s Caoimhe Archibald, who chairs the economy committee, said that if the advisory group is “to seriously deal with longstanding problems of the past, the crisis of the present, and the threat of climate breakdown”, then its membership should be widened.
Meanwhile, the SDLP’s Sinead McLaughlin described its make up as “a missed opportunity”, adding that it should be given a remit to address regional imbalances, and Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson called for “participation from everyone involved” in the economic recovery.
“Workers will obviously be a key part, so trade unions should have a voice in this group to advocate for workers’ rights,” said Mr Dickson.
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