Belfast Telegraph

Generation dole... lengthening queue of young jobless expected to top 50,000

By Noel McAdam

The number of young people without work, training places or on courses in Northern Ireland is set to top 50,000, the Assembly has been warned.

The current total of so-called ‘Neets’ — those between 18 and 24 who are not in employment, education or training — is currently around 46,000.

The figure came six months after Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) officials told Assembly committee officials they have been unable to keep track of young people caught in the Neets net.

DEL official Pascal McCulla told the DEL committee last December: “The simple answer is that we do not know. That is why we are putting in place tracking and other mechanisms. We will know over the next couple of years.”

And yesterday DEL Minister Stephen Farry (right) warned of the “real risk” that the current generation of young people could become the long-term unemployed of the future.

“The raw numbers do not, of course, capture the personal impact of the ongoing difficult economic conditions on young people,” he told MLAs.

“These are people who would have otherwise expected to be in work today if it was not for the economic downturn and reduced opportunities. Some simply need the chance to gain experience. It is a catch-22 position for those young people: they cannot secure a job without experience, but they cannot get experience without a job.”

His comments came as he unveiled a £5.8m youth employment scheme aimed at tackling the Neets problem.

It includes enhanced support through additional adviser time from both the employment and careers services, a series of work experience placements and training opportunities, and a new employer subsidy aimed at firms who agree to “facilitate and enable further skills development”.

“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. The measures will seek to ensure that no young person is left behind,” Mr Farry added.

For the 18-24 age group, the measures include 1,000 short two-to-eight- week work experience placements, rising to 3,000 placements annually by March 2015, and 400 training places coupled with additional sector-based work experience of between six and nine months.

Chairman of the DEL committee, Basil McCrea, said however that he was “underwhelmed” by the extent of the scheme, which he described as a “drop in the ocean” in terms of tackling the problem.

“I hope that the minister will look at a more overarching approach to the issue. Surely we need to find a way to encourage our young people to make choices earlier in their careers so that employment prospects are available to them rather than putting on a sticking plaster when things go wrong,” Ulster Unionist Mr McCrea added.

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