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Dublin: 2 °C Tuesday 19 November, 2019
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Column: ‘We must work together to solve the youth unemployment problem’

We cannot afford to raise young peoples’ hopes and then dash them with empty promises, writes James Doorley, Deputy Director at the National Youth Council of Ireland.

James Doorley

THE GOVERNMENT IS currently developing a Youth Guarantee plan which has to be submitted to the European Commission by the end of the year so Ireland can access EU funds.

The report “Creating a Future for Young Jobseekers” in 2011 recommended that the Irish Government should examine the introduction of a Youth Guarantee scheme here.

There is now broad agreement on the need for a Youth Guarantee. The reasons why we need it are clear. Now is time to focus our energies on what we need to do to implement a quality and effective youth guarantee.

Vital to get this right from the start

The Youth Guarantee proposes to “guarantee” young jobseekers under 25 a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship, and a traineeship or work experience within four months of becoming unemployed.

That is achievable; other countries such as Sweden, Austria and Finland have done it, but we must recognise it will be a challenge.

We cannot afford to raise young people’s hopes and then dash them with empty promises. The word “guarantee” has a currency. The youth guarantee has been presented as a new departure; we have to deliver the quality places and progression for young jobseekers. Let’s strive to make the Irish Youth Guarantee the best youth guarantee in Europe.

Significant Investment required

Based on the Swedish model we estimate that delivering the youth guarantee to all those on the live register for 6 months or more would cost approximately €273 million per annum, a commitment after four months would cost more.

A comprehensive guarantee cannot be done on the cheap. The €14 million initial allocation announced in the budget in October is welcome, but nowhere near sufficient. We have a rare opportunity to access significant EU funds to invest in young jobseekers with the allocation of the €6 billion being decided in the next few months.

In recent days we learned that the European Commission had made a “provisional allocation” of €64 million from one of the two youth guarantee funds to Ireland. This suggests that the Taoiseach’s comments in recent days that a €200 million budget would be available for implementation are correct.

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“We’re Not Leaving ” protest in Dublin. (Sam Boal/Photocall)

However while a €200 million budget over two years is a giant step forward, it is still only about 40 per cent of what we and others suggest full implementation will require. Given the constraints on the public finances, we believe that the Government should investigate other sources of funding, including asking employers to contribute as they will benefit from the skilled and job ready young workforce.

A need to put the young jobseeker at the centre of decision making

The individual needs assessment and career plan is at the centre of the Youth Guarantee. It’s vital that young jobseekers are centrally involved in shaping and deciding that plan. Our work with young jobseekers shows that they are very concerned about the education, training, work experience options, they want to know how this will help them get a job.

Too often we hear stories of young jobseekers being sent on a course because there is a place without any regard to whether that opportunity will assist the young jobseeker. The education and training opportunities should be developed in response to the needs of jobseekers and the labour market, rather than the old model where we decided what education and training was required and jobseekers were slotted into the fill the places.

We would also propose the introduction of a “reasons why” agreement which sets out the rationale for the career plan that both jobseeker and caseworker are both clear why and how the options taken will assist the jobseeker.

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“We’re Not Leaving ” protest in Dublin. (Sam Boal/Photocall)

Focus should be on most disadvantaged young people

We need to focus in particular on the most disadvantaged young people who have limited qualifications and are long term unemployed. Recent figures show that up to 27,800 young people were on the live register for one year or more.

For example, some young people in this category may have left school early and have literacy issues, these needs must be addressed before they can access further education and training. There is a danger that this group will be left behind if additional supports and specific measures are not implemented. Evidence from Sweden and Finland suggests a Youth Guarantee without additional supports may be less successful with this cohort.

Need to harness capacity of the youth, community and voluntary sector. This cannot be done by the State alone.

Even if sufficient education, training and work experience places available, not all young people would be ready or willing to engage. Locally based youth workers and youth organisations have credibility and a track record to engage and support young jobseekers. We proposed earlier this year the establishment of an innovation fund as part of the youth guarantee to support initiatives that would act “as a bridge” between young people and existing education, training and work experience providers.

Career guidance

Quality career guidance and job counseling is crucial. Young jobseekers need intensive support and expert advice to make the key decisions on education, training etc given that they are starting out on a career and because of their lack of work experience.

As noted in the recent OECD report (Getting Youth on the Job Track) we have only only case worker for 800 jobseekers. That is double the average in the Nordic countries. We need to increase the number of case workers if we are to provide the sort of support and guidance necessary to properly implement the youth guarantee

Engagement with local employers is important. We accept more work is being done in this area, but if education and training are to be tailored to meet the needs of the local economy we need to know what type of skills and qualifications are required and potential job opportunities.

Likewise active engagement with employers will allow employment services to gather information and intelligence about upcoming work and work experience opportunities.

The Youth Guarantee should be subject to independent and rigorous monitoring and evaluation from the start. Evaluation should not be an afterthought but fully incorporated into the initiative. If aspects of the programme are not successful then we should be willing to divest resources and invest them in areas that do deliver for young jobseekers.

We believe that the measurement of success should be more than the number of young people progressed into employment, while this is very important. We need to ensure that we are supporting young jobseekers into decent and sustainable employment.

Just focusing on getting young people off the live register is a short term solution if they are likely to return to the live register after a few months.

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“We’re Not Leaving ” protest in Dublin. (Sam Boal/Photocall)

Long term unemployed

We also believe that for some, especially for those with limited qualifications or who are long term unemployed that progression from inactivity into education, training and/or work experience should in the medium term also be considered a measure of progress and success.

We believe as outlined here that it is possible to develop and deliver a quality and comprehensive youth guarantee in Ireland which gives young jobseekers hope, direction and a foothold onto the labour market.

Given the scale of the unemployment challenge we must all work together to achieve that. Nothing less is acceptable.

James Doorley is Deputy Director at the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI).  NYCI is the representative body for national voluntary youth work organisations in Ireland. It uses its collective experience to act on issues that impact on young people. In March 2011, NYCI was one of the first groups to call for a Youth Guarantee, in its position paper “Creating a Future for Young Jobseekers”. A fact sheet on youth unemployment can be found here.

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