Exodus of the young must end
It seems astonishing that more people are now leaving Northern Ireland than at any time in the last 30 years. Three decades ago the province was still in the Troubles' grip. It was a virtual no-go area for investment and violence was at a very high level.
Today the situation is much different with a drastically improved security and political situation and prospects of a recovering economy.
But other economies obviously appear more attractive to our young people – that is those aged under 40.
They are probably better educated than their parents and are a mobile workforce, able and willing to take their skills elsewhere, to Britain, Europe and further afield, such as the US or Australasia.
While the Executive has worked to attract new investment, and with some success, there is little doubt that our recovery from recession is slower than in other parts of the UK and certainly other parts of the world. And as this newspaper reported recently, our pay rates fall well below the UK average, even for what would be regarded as higher value occupations such as financial services.
The emigration of some of our brightest young people creates several problems for the local economy.
Firstly, it means a smaller labour pool to lure inward investment, particularly in technical and professional sectors. Secondly, the population is aging rapidly and in the next decade it is estimated that the number of elderly people will outnumber children. That will produce a drain on resources such as health and social services, but there will be fewer taxpayers to fund the demand.
The task for politicians and business leaders is to convince our young people that they have a worthwhile future here. They need to be assured they can make a decent living at home and have the opportunities to carve out careers or even their own businesses. Changing the mindset of young people whose horizons are much wider than their forebearers will not be an easy task, but it is one that must succeed.