Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Private sector puts new focus on workforce woes

Businesses have called for stronger state intervention to help reverse Northern Ireland’s high unemployment and economic inactivity in an advisory report for the Employment Minister Sir |Reg Empey.

The report was written by business people in the private sector who are part of the employment and skills advisory group (ESAG), which advises Dr Bill McGinnis, the Northern Ireland adviser on employment and skills (NIAES).

Dr McGinnis said: “Although our unemployment rate of 6.3% is still quite low by historical standards, there are large variations in the distribution of unemployment levels within Northern Ireland.

“Our high economic inactivity rate remains a key concern for policy makers as it represents a severe loss of economic resources and a drain on scarce public resources. The challenge going forward is for Northern Ireland to mobilise and expand its labour force and this will inevitably require it to make inroads into its high inactivity rates.”

According to the report, the most urgent matters affecting the province’s job market are Northern Ireland’s 28% economic inactivity rate, which is significantly higher than the UK average of 21%, and growing youth unemployment. The growing claimant count — at 55,700 in the latest figures, up 32.6% in the last year making the province the only UK region to show an increase in February — was also a pressing matter. The report urged a more focused approach to job creation, and stronger state intervention — including requiring businesses tendering for major public infrastructure projects to provide apprenticeships and employment for the long-term unemployed.

There would be more paid placements and graduate internships in the public and private sector, and a high awareness campaign would be needed to encourage firms to create placements, apprenticeships, work experience or mentoring opportunities.

And there would be measures to ease the path from unemployment to work, including cutting the period at which people must join the Steps to Work programme from six months to three months.

The report also recommended boosting the numbers of personal advisers for claimants in job centres and giving them more time to improve their skills and find out more about the labour market in their areas.

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