With the latest emigration figures offering little hope to the young people of Ireland, the Government must act now. The recent CSO figures confirmed what anyone working with Irish students and graduates already knows – the recent fall in the Live Register owes more to the emigration of 35,000 of our best and brightest than it does to new job creation.
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny recently told European leaders that youth unemployment is ‘an abomination’. Tánaiste Éamon Gilmore tells us he has reached an agreement with the OECD to develop an action plan for Ireland, to tackle a crisis that has left nearly 30% of Irish 15-24 year olds unemployed.
Words and gestures like these won’t console the 51% of Irish students who expect to have to emigrate after they complete their degrees, or their families. Well-meaning platitudes and broad non-commitments just won’t cut it for the thousands of qualified graduates whose options are – the dole queue or the departure lounge.
That’s on the 5th of September, we the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), along with ICTU (Irish Congress of Trade Unions) and ISSU (Irish Secondary Students’ Union) offered solutions with our joint policy paper “Investing in a future that Works”. The paper sets out deliverable policy proposals that will ensure young people:
- Can make a smooth transition from education to employment;
- Can participate in work placements that will give them real and worthwhile learning opportunities;
- Can enter the labour market and enjoy conditions that will provide them with a decent standard of living..
This collaborative effort between student leaders and young workers is a positive response to the issues currently facing Ireland’s youth. With October’s Budget around the corner, we are calling on the Government to produce a National Jobs Strategy for Young People. Investment will be required, but it is a worthwhile investment for the Ireland of tomorrow. It must include real and significant investment in the European Youth Guarantee, to ensure that all young people will be offered a job, training place, apprenticeship or education course within 4 months of being unemployed. Matching EU funding with substantial investment from the Irish exchequer will allow the Youth Guarantee to make a real difference.
The JobBridge internship scheme showed how a lack of oversight and monitoring, saw a well-meaning initiative exploited by unscrupulous employers. The partners in our collaboration are offering proposals on best practice for work placements, internships and apprenticeships to combat this, and should be fully consulted in the rollout of an Irish Youth Guarantee.
Ensuring graduates have ‘that little bit more’
The fundamental difficulty facing Irish graduates in finding work here is the lack of opportunities, but this mustn’t stop us from looking at how we can improve the employability of our graduates.
In a crowded market, employers are always looking for ‘that little bit more’ from graduates. Often graduates develop these additional skills through extra-curricular activities – volunteering, civic/community engagement and participation in clubs and societies. For this reason, we are calling for a national accreditation system to recognise this work.
Beyond this, we must do more to embed core skills that boost employability and work-readiness – communications, ICT skills, numerical reasoning – into course curricula. Enterprise modules across all disciplines would help instill in our graduates an ethos of entrepreneurship that will allow them to play a part in rebuilding the economy.
Fourth-level, research and excellence
Graduating in 2011, young people had three options – to emigrate, sign-on, or continue into Postgraduate education. But with Postgraduate grants and fee maintenance now all but abolished, that third option has been taken away from many Irish students.
The Government’s response – endorsing a commercial loan product with a punitive interest rate – is not sufficient. This unfair ‘solution’ does not lift the barrier that was dropped in front of an entire cohort of disadvantaged students in 2011.
Irish graduates must have every opportunity to advance their education, to carry out research and to achieve excellence. We need a state-backed or state-supported affordable loan option that will allow excellent students, who may not otherwise have the means, to pursue education beyond third-level.
The crisis of youth unemployment throws up many complex and interlinked problems. The solutions to these problems lie with Ministers across a variety of Government departments– Minister Burton in the Department of Social Welfare, Minister Bruton in the Department of Jobs, and Minister Quinn in Education. This cannot be allowed to fall between the different stools. It requires a joined up effort inside Government. And USI, ICTU and ISSU are ready to help.
How this Government fares in tackling this crisis will be its enduring legacy. It’s time to get real about youth unemployment
Joe O Connor, USI President