Are We Leaving Our Young People Behind?

Many economic profiles of Northern Ireland show that we have one of the youngest populations in Europe and highlight it as our greatest asset. The crucial role young people play in the economy is celebrated even though it is increasingly difficult for them to get well-paid, long-term secure jobs that lead to rewarding careers.

Youth unemployment is more than double the average and proving to be not only an economic problem but a social one too; as increasing numbers are disengaging from education, employment and training.

The economic problem stems from the fact that such lack of engagement results in a major drain on public finances, particularly in the medium and long-term.

The social problem stems from the fact that such lack of engagement results in long-term unemployment, reduced opportunities and exclusion.

The problem is not simply a function of the education, employment or social system but a combination of all and therefore the solutions are complex and challenging.

The problem is not limited to Northern Ireland as many countries face similar issues, as young people are unable to, or chose not to, engage in traditional ‘normal’ economy activities.

In recent years there has been a raft of initiatives to address the situation and yet it remains one of the key challenges facing government.

There is no doubt that young people want to contribute; so why is it not happening and why are so many left behind at a time when we need them most.

The barriers to participation include: bad experiences of education; bullying in school; issues resulting from care; difficulty with literacy and numeracy; responsibilities as carers or parents; alcohol and drugs; learning and physical disabilities; crime; and homelessness.

Many young people experience a combination of factors and without extra and specific targeted support they are not able to engage in education, employment or training, as others do.

In an attempt to address the situation, work is being done across all government departments to develop a joined-up approach so young people can avail of the opportunities that exist.

In the meantime, the economy suffers as the gap between the young people available and the skills needed to fill jobs widens.

SO, at a time when our young people are celebrated as one of our greatest assets they face significant challenges and need extra help to succeed.

What do you think?

Are we leaving our young people behind?

Look forward to hearing your comments.