A guarantee of training or work should be introduced in Northern Ireland to tackle youth unemployment, a research organisation has said.
Joblessness among the young has risen to dangerously high levels, the trade union-supported report warned. Public money should be spent now to address the problem when the labour market is weakest rather than waiting until the situation would be expected to improve, the review said.
"The Executive will have to meet the cost of this crisis at some point," it added. "We argue that money is better spent making investment in young people now, rather than face potentially larger costs in the future."
The 58-page report was drawn up by the Nevin Economic Research Institute, which carries out work relevant to trade unions.
Its Quarterly Economic Observer said overall employment was expected to rise by 0.4% this year although output will fall by 1%.
The main focus of the report was on youth unemployment, which it said could cost £300m in Northern Ireland. A total of 24,000 young people aged 18-24 are unemployed – equivalent to 23.8% of the labour force. Around 34,000, or almost 20%, of people aged between 18 and 24 are not in employment, education or training. The number of young persons between the ages of 18 and 24 claiming welfare benefit in January this year was over 18,000.
"Young people have been adversely affected by the recession and youth unemployment continues to rise to dangerous levels.
"Focused action is required to prevent long-term youth unemployment and to reconnect with young people who have become perilously detached from the labour market," the report said:
It said a youth guarantee scheme would provide relevant training, work experience or paid employment for every young person unable to find work. The report said additional employment opportunities would be created for the person through on-the-job training or for society through community employment.
It said funds assigned to other social problems that affect young people could be diverted toward a guarantee, and efficiencies could be gained by combining schemes that offer apprenticeships, training courses or work placements.
It added the Executive should co-ordinate with other regions of the UK experiencing high levels of youth unemployment to obtain funding from the European Social Fun. The Department for Employment and Learning already offers schemes designed to help people into work, including apprenticeships, essential skills training and a scheme to provide young people with relevant qualifications.