YES, our programme for jobless teens is working
The Youth Employment Scheme is proving a vital lifeline to the one in five young people who are without work in Northern Ireland right now, writes Stephen Farry
Devolution offers Northern Ireland the potential to deliver programmes shaped to meet local circumstances and to engage in policy innovation.
After direct rule, devolution has to be about more than simply replicating measures being adopted in Great Britain.
Emerging examples of this approach are the local measures to address youth unemployment.
While there has been a welcome fall in youth unemployment in recent months and many other parts of Europe have considerably higher figures, Northern Ireland's rate of 18.5% still remains a major challenge.
That said, other parts of Europe, notably the Germanic countries, have much lower levels of youth unemployment.
To a large part, this is due to their much more efficient labour markets in terms of matching supply with demand.
I hope that the outworking or my current major review of apprenticeships and youth training will go a long way to providing a structural solution to youth unemployment.
There is already a range of opportunities for all of our young people to train and to enter and progress in the world of work.
Further and higher education institutions offer a diverse selection of courses. Every young person under 18 is guaranteed a training place under the Training For Success initiative and a wide range of apprentice opportunities – to learn on the job – are available through Apprenticeships NI.
Pathways to Success is the strategy to assist young people not in employment, education or training, who have lacked opportunities to train, or otherwise face barriers to full participation in the labour market.
However, other young people are already well-educated and trained, but simply lack the experience to compete in a much more competitive labour market.
They are caught in the trap of not having enough experience to get a job, but not having a job to gain the necessary experience. This is a particular issue when in the less buoyant labour market of today.
Employment is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, so the Northern Ireland Executive is not bound by any requirement to maintain parity with Great Britain on its response to youth unemployment.
Back in March 2012, the Executive endorsed my proposals for the Youth Employment Scheme (YES).
YES is an innovative step towards tackling youth unemployment and the package on offer is as comprehensive as any on offer in Britain and Ireland.
Informed by international best practice, the Youth Employment Scheme seeks to break this cycle through offering short, two to eight-week work experience placements, longer, six to nine-month training opportunities and an employer subsidy of £5,750 a year.
Since April this year, 1,000 young people have participated in the scheme and we have many more opportunities across a range of work experience areas that young people can avail of to enhance their prospects of entering employment.
I intend to introduce some changes to the scheme this month to further incentivise participation and encourage voluntary participation by young people.
But it is not all about participation – it's about helping young people find work. Already, 555 young people have moved into work through YES. This far outstrips the performance of the Youth Contract in Great Britain.
Just over a year into YES, I am pleased to say that the programme has been a good success story – not just in terms of how it is helping our young people find work, but also as an example of devolution in action.
I am, however, not being complacent, as there remains further scope for increased performance, and providing opportunities for young people remains a top priority for me.