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Executive urged to adopt project to stop NI’s ‘brain drain’

SDLP’s O’Toole’s programme aims to get young people into Civil Service posts


SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole. Credit: Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole. Credit: Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Matthew O’Toole

Matthew O’Toole


SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole. Credit: Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The Executive is being urged to consider an ambitious new public service recruitment and development programme, aimed at getting high achieving young people and experienced professionals to tackle society’s most intractable problems,

The Make Change Programme, the first of its kind in Ireland, has been launched by the SDLP’s finance spokesperson Matthew O’Toole, and is designed to get high-achieving graduates, experienced professionals and ambitious school leavers into the Civil Service specifically to work on some of the most challenging problems Northern Ireland faces.

Northern Ireland’s ‘brain drain’ continues to see many of the most talented and qualified young people leave the region, frustrated at the slow rate of change in society.

Meanwhile, the Civil Service faces well-publicised challenges in capacity and capability — highlighted by multiple independent reports — but is also addressing a looming crisis in its workforce, with 80% of its senior civil servants over the age of 50 and just 1% of the entire workforce under the age of 25.

The proposal suggests the programme should commence in pilot form in summer 2022, in time for new graduates to apply for entry and be assigned to projects agreed by the new Executive elected next year.

Among the priorities would be climate change mitigation, tackling the health waiting list crisis, reforming the health service and closing the skills gap.

Mr O’Toole said something needs to be done to stop young people looking outside Northern Ireland for career opportunities.

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“Too many young people leave this place,” he said.

“But despite the well-publicised issues in Civil Service capacity, they simply aren’t encouraged to consider a career in public service.

"This proposal is about addressing these issues, but more than that, it’s about exciting a generation of young people here to get involved in public service careers to improve the lives of others.

“We know that other jurisdictions, including Dublin and London, are successful at attracting ambitious young people, and we also know that programmes like the Peace Corps and Teach First attract and inspire people who want to improve the lives of others. As well as inspiring them, this programme should help develop the public service leaders of the future,” said Mr O’Toole.

“Mid-career professionals and apprentices would also participate in additional training programmes, and be eligible for fast-tracked promotion on the basis of their Make Change Programme experience.

"Though New Decade, New Approach contained a commitment to further Civil Service reform, as yet little detail has been provided.

"The Finance Minister has committed to restarting the NICS graduate trainee scheme, which was discontinued several years ago, but as yet limited detail has been provided.”

The MLA said he has now written to Finance Minister Conor Murphy, the First and Deputy First Ministers, as well as the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service to set out the proposal in detail and suggest the Civil Service begins scoping work soon in order to start recruiting in summer 2022, after a new Executive has agreed a fresh Programme for Government.

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