Belfast Telegraph

Bleak prospects after exams as youth unemployment hits 16-year high

By Lindsay Fergus

Northern Ireland’s young people are at risk of becoming a “lost generation” after the youth unemployment rate became the highest in the UK, it has been claimed.

One in four young people (22.3%) here can’t get a job because of the impact of the economic downturn on Northern Ireland.

The dire employment picture comes as A-level results were published yesterday. Thousands of young people now face the daunting task of making decisions on their future.

But they are facing a double whammy as a record number of people applied for Northern Ireland’s universities — the highest of any UK region and fuelled by soaring tuition fees.

There are now 22,000 young people unemployed, according to the latest figures from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

And Ulster Bank’s chief economist Richard Ramsey has forecast that within the next six months the number of young people on the dole here will reach a 16-year-high.

There are now 18,877 18 to 24- year-olds claiming benefits — just 1,493 less than in October 1996.

Mr Ramsey said: “The latest figures confirm Northern Ireland’s youth unemployment rate is now 22.3% (UK 19.3%).

“By way of context, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998, the youth unemployment rate was 9.6%.

“In 1998 we had a prosperous economy. If you wanted a job you got one even if you were not skilled. Now we have people with no skills and qualifications who may never get out of long-term unemployment. On the other hand people are coming out of university with skills and qualifications and it’s almost like negative equity — they run up debt over three years and they find out they can’t get jobs.

“But if you do not get those skills and qualifications your chances of getting employment are less.

“It’s the young generation that is bearing the brunt of the recession. Pensions reforms, tuition fees, welfare policies are all going against the younger generation.”

According to Mr Ramsey, it will also be years before the economy picks up.

“We had the construction boom, public sector boom and employment peaked in 2008 — we are not going to see those employment levels by 2018. It is going to be longer than that. It’s the generation of 2008 to 2020 that could be a lost generation.”

Angela McGowan, Northern Bank’s chief economist, said: “To avoid a lost generation, a social partnership approach is necessary whereby the private sector, the public sector, trade unions and Government work together to formulate and implement solutions.”

Even the Employment and Learning Minister, Stephen Farry, admitted that: “There is a real risk that the current generation of young unemployed people may become the long-term unemployed of the future”.

But he added: “This is a risk I am not prepared to take. Not only would it be disastrous for the young people themselves and a waste of their talent, it would also be a waste of a valuable resource for employers and would result in a significant cost to the Northern Ireland economy.”

In June, the Executive gave his department an additional £5.8m to tackle the growing number of young people not in education, employment or training — known as (NEETS).

Minister Farry explained: “The focus of the whole initiative is to ensure that young people who are currently unemployed are provided, at the earliest possible stage, with the skills to gain jobs, compete for jobs created in the future and retain and progress in those jobs.

A survey by the National Union of Students shows that youth unemployment is a concern for teenagers.

The poll of 800 students revealed that three out of four youngsters intending to go to university this autumn are worried about not getting a job after they finish their course.

Answering the questions that could prove vital to your future

Frances O’Hara, head of operations at the Department for Employment and Learning’s Careers Service, responds to some frequently asked questions

Q I hear that there is high competition for jobs. Is there any value in going to university and studying for a further three or four years?

A The job situation for graduates is difficult given the current economic situation. It is important, therefore, that you choose the route best suited to you whilst taking account of future economic and labour market trends. Fact sheets have been produced by the Careers Service and the Sector Skills Councils to assist with occupational choice and career decision making. They are available at www.nidirect.gov.uk/careers and from Jobcentres, Careers Resource Centres and Jobs & Benefit Offices.

Q I did better than expected and would like to explore options at other universities?

A UCAS has introduced an adjustment period to allow students who have exceeded the conditions of their firm choice to reconsider where and what to study. The adjustment process is available from today until August 31. Your individual adjustment period starts today or when your conditional firm (CF) choice changes to unconditional firm (UF), whichever is later. From this time you have five days to register and secure an alternative course, if this is what you want to do, but you must register to use adjustment so universities and colleges can view your application.

Q I did not achieve the results for my chosen universities. What are my options?

A There are a number of possibilities open. I would urge you to quickly contact a careers adviser or your careers teacher to help you decide what’s best for you. Options could include an alternative degree course, alternative qualifications, an apprenticeship, employment, a gap year or maybe re-sits. Our further education colleges offer a wide range of vocational and other qualifications, including foundation degrees.

For more information and details on contacting a careers adviser check www.nidirect.gov.uk/results or phone 0300 200 7820

Stay calm, keep informed and consider all options

As A-level students get their exam results today, Lydia McClelland, |head of marketing at the University of Ulster, has advice for students

1 Stay calm: Advice and guidance is available from many places. The University of Ulster is providing face-to-face help on all four campuses at our advice day tomorrow as well as a telephone helpline for applicants.

2 Keep yourself informed: UCAS has an online system which allows you to see whether or not a university has confirmed your place. Track can be found at www.ucas.com.students/track where you enter your personal username and ID, which you should have received already via a letter from UCAS.

3 Don’t worry: In almost all cases, exam results will already have been communicated electronically by UCAS to universities.

4 Consider your options: If you have met your entry conditions for your preferred course the university will automatically confirm your place through UCAS Track on results day. Within a few days you will receive a confirmation letter from UCAS. However, if you narrowly miss achieving the required grades, you may be made a ‘Changed Course Offer’ in a similar subject area or receive an offer for your Conditional Insurance (CI) course. You do not have to accept your ‘Changed Course Offer’ and you can make this known through the Track system.

5 Aim higher: If you achieve better exam results than you expected (or needed) the UCAS Adjustment process provides an opportunity for you to reconsider where and what to study.

6 Stay hopeful: Universities might have new courses available for a short time through clearing that were not available when you first applied.

7 Take responsibility: It is important that you are available to make decisions about your choice of course at this time of year – it’s your future, don’t leave it up to your parents.

8 Seek advice: It is important to consider all alternative options.

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