Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: We must aid this 'lost generation'

His language was not that expected of a government minister, but Sir Reg Empey was making a valid point when he described some of the young unemployed people in the province as "vampires" - they lie in bed to mid-afternoon and then run around all night.

It is an image many share of the young unemployed. Of course it has another connotation; that these are young people who are sucking the lifeblood out of the benefits system. Again there is some validity in that point of view.

However, we must not lose sight of the fact that our education and employment systems are letting our young people down. The number of 16-24 year olds not in education, training or employment is now a staggering 47,000, one fifth of the total in that age bracket. It is little wonder that they have low self-esteem and feel they have little chance of gaining meaningful employment.

We pride ourselves on the standard of education available in our schools and colleges. But the system also leaves many young people without any academic qualifications. While there are programmes to help the less academically able, the problem is to reach them. There is a lost generation wandering the streets of our towns and cities after dark who feel they have little to contribute to society.

Of course the recession has made the situation worse. If even those with experience and qualifications have difficulty getting or keeping jobs, then the opportunities available for those without either are remote to say the least.

It is obvious that there needs to be an overhaul of both the education and training systems so that those who need most help are identified early and placed in appropriate programmes. In our pursuit of academic excellence we sometimes lose sight of the need for vocational excellence as well. Ultimately our young people, of all abilities, are our future and they need to be equipped with the best skills possible so that they can make a meaningful contribution to society.

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