The newspaper article misinterprets the Tech Nation “Jobs and Skills Report 2020”, which states that for Belfast, from June to August 2020, 26% of job adverts at the online search site Adzuna were in the category of IT and engineering jobs. Using the most recent figures available from NISRA, we estimate that 8% of the workforce in Belfast is employed in jobs that fall into this category.

UPDATE: The Times corrected its article, in response to our request. Its updated article states that in Belfast, the tech sector makes up 26 per cent of vacancies, not overall employment.

A paywalled article published in The Times, “Tech firms blaze trail with huge jobs drive”, cites a report by Tech Nation, “Jobs & Skills Report 2020”, which analysed advertising for job vacancies in the UK, from June to August 2020, using data from Adzuna, an online search engine for job advertisements.

The Times article states, “In nine British cities, tech companies account for a fifth of all employment, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol and Reading. In Belfast and Cambridge, the sector employs 26 per cent of the workforce.”

The article is based on Tech Nation’s Jobs & Skills report, which presents figures on the percentage of job vacancies advertised at the Adzuna website. A percentage breakdown of advertised job vacancies is not the same as a percentage breakdown of employees already in jobs. 

What are “Digital Tech” jobs?

The Tech Nation report refers to “Digital Tech” in terms of IT and engineering jobs, citing examples of software developer, data scientist, and front end developer. In the UK, the Office for National Statistics uses Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes to classify businesses by type of economic activity. IT and engineering jobs have SIC code designations within sections J (Information and Communication) and M (Professional, Scientific, and Technical Activities) of this taxonomy.

What percentage of the workforce in Belfast is in the digital/IT sector?

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) publishes a Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES), which includes employee job figures across all industry sectors, by SIC codes. The BRES bulletin, published on 30 June 2020, shows changes in workforce employment over time. It was based on survey data collected in September 2019, before the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions; therefore, it does not show the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market.

In defining Belfast as the Belfast City Council area, the total estimated number of employee jobs in the city in September 2019 was 230,649. According to BRES (Table 3.2 “DCA by Section”), the top ten industrial sectors, by total employee jobs in Belfast in September 2019, were:

  1. Human health and social work [section Q] (34,550; 15%);
  2. Wholesale and retail trade, etc [section G] (27,830; 12%);
  3. Admin and support services [section N] (25,407; 11%);
  4. Public administration and defence, etc [section O] (24,432; 11%);
  5. Education [section P] (19,691; 9%);
  6. Professional, scientific, and technical [section M] (18,454; 8%);
  7. Accommodation and food service [section I] (16,013; 7%);
  8. Information and communication [section J] (14,473; 6%);
  9. Financial and insurance [section K] (11,754; 5%);
  10. Manufacturing [section C] (9,345; 4%).

Using BRES (Table 1.1 “DCA”), the two relevant industrial sectors (SIC Sections J ‘Information and communication’ and M ‘Professional, scientific, and technical’) are estimated to have employed 32,927 people in Belfast, or 14% of the city’s workforce. This includes jobs that are very unlikely to match the Tech Nation report’s meaning of “Digital Tech”. (For example, section M includes lawyers, accountants and planners as well as engineering roles.)  

We reviewed the subcomponents (or divisions) of the two sectors (see Notes), and have calculated that an estimated 18,041 people are employed in IT and engineering jobs, like those advertised at Adzura. This represents 7.8% of Belfast jobs.

The Tech Nation “Jobs and Skills Report 2020” analyses data on advertisements for job vacancies across the UK and by particular categories. The report states that for Belfast, from June to August 2020, 26% of job adverts at the online search site Adzura were in the category of IT jobs. NISRA estimate that 14% of the workforce in Belfast is employed in the broader industry sectors of information and communication, and professional, scientific, and technical activities. FactCheckNI estimates that 8% of jobs in Belfast approximate those advertised by Adzura as “IT and engineering”.


We used the following SIC codes to estimate the number of jobs in Belfast that are approximate to those advertised in the category “IT and engineering” at website Azura:

SIC2DescriptionJobs in Belfast
59Motion picture, video and television programme production, sound recording and music761
60Programming and broadcasting activities872
62Computer programming, consultancy and related activities9,600
63Information service activities157
71Architectural and engineering activities; technical testing and analysis3,296
72Scientific research and development735
Source: Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES); ad hoc table provided by NISRA.

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