Youth Employability Seminar

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Radisson Hotel, Athlone 26th September 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, firstly I wish to thank you for the opportunity to address you today as you gather for the Youth Employability Seminar here in Athlone.

I would like to commend organisers of the event on the initiative shown in bringing together the various agencies whose remit covers the area of youth employment, in particular those exhibiting today in the Information Village and all those involved in the various workshops preparing young people for their job search. I know that you are aware of the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs, but want young people to be proactive in getting their own futures in line and I believe that is a very commendable goal.

Prior to my election in March of last year, I worked as a Youth Worker with Foróige and I am acutely aware of the challenges facing young people, be they early school leavers, second or third level graduates, in the current jobs environment.

Since the collapse of the Irish economy in 2008, over 300,000 people have lost their job. That has created a double difficulty for young people seeking to enter the jobs market. Firstly, in many cases there is a large cohort of experienced people already desperately seeking work, having been either laid off or put on short working time in recent years. With no experience and little prospect of accessing experience, they continue to jobseek with perhaps excellent academic qualifications which a few short years ago would have assured them of a position.
The ultimate goal of the current Government is job creation, the task before us is getting Ireland back to work. We have never seen so many people unemployed and the sight of young people leaving Ireland in search of work overseas has become all too familiar in every village, town and city in the land. Sadly, there is no ‘big bang’ solution to this jobs crisis. The economy will have to be rebuilt piece by piece, jobs safeguarded one by one, people re-skilled and upskilled on an individual basis.

A targeted approach is necessary to facilitate those interested in creating jobs and also to ensure that those currently unemployed are ready to take up new jobs in new sectors when they do arise. Earlier this year the Government introduced its Action Plan for Jobs and also the Pathways to Work programme. The Action Plan for Jobs aims to support the creation of 100,000 new jobs by 2016, while Pathways to Work aims to provide people currently unemployed with the appropriate skills to avail of the new opportunities that will arise.

Action Plan for Jobs contains over 270 measures to be delivered across all 15 Government Departments and 36 State Agencies. Under Pathways to Work, the Department of Social Protection is committed to supporting over 85,000 job placement, work experience and Back to Education beneficiaries this year, including through the JobBridge internship programme. The €20 million Labour Market Education and Training Fund also includes specific provision for those under 25 years of age.

The objective behind the Pathways to Work scheme is that no-one who loses their job should be allowed to drift without support, into long-term unemployment. Pathways to Work aims to be the catalyst to get people on the path to a new job and better prospects.

Foreign Direct Investment continues to be an important piece of the jigsaw and to date the IDA has announced the creation of thousands of jobs in Limerick, Dublin, Sligo, Dundalk, Kildare and Mayo and last week we heard that gaming giant EA Games is to create a further 300 jobs in Galway. I firmly believe that the gaming industry holds huge potential for Ireland and I believe that Galway can become an important hub in terms of gaming in Europe. Various collaborations between universities and Institutes of Technology have reaped rewards for all involved to date and I believe that further benefits are to be had in this area.

The problem of youth unemployment is one affecting young people right across Europe and at the moment Ireland is one of eight member states with youth unemployment levels significantly above the EU average. Last December, the European Commission launched a ‘Youth Opportunities Initiative’ in response to this growing problem. This initiative set out a number of actions to be financed directly by the Commission, including measures supported by the European Social Fund, and by the Erasmus student exchange programme and Leonardo da Vinci programme for training and mobility of workers.

Education is a key element of both the Erasmus and Leonardo programmes and indeed education and re-skilling of people is key to tackling youth unemployment. Springboard is one of the educational initiatives instituted by this government and it aims to provide free part-time higher education places to unemployed people to enable them to upskill in areas where there are skills shortages. These include information and communications technology, the green economy, biopharma-pharmachem, the food and beverage sector, international financial services and the medical devices sector. Those of you in the audience today who are currently unemployed and are graduates could also examine the graduate conversion programme which has 750 places aimed at re-skilling graduates to meet the skills needs of the ICT Sector.

While the jobs provided via foreign direct investment are crucial to the Irish economy, the jobs created by indigenous firms of all sizes are the real life-blood of any economy. With this in mind the Government has implemented a range of new supports for small and medium businesses struggling to access credit and has also established a new Potential Exporters Division, aimed at driving Irish exports, especially in emerging markets and ensuring that the energy and enthusiasm of these companies is properly married to the skills required to access export markets.

Very often small indigenous companies do not have the wherewithal or experience to engage in an export drive but by grouping together similar products, such as a range of artisan food, economies of scale can be achieved and badly-needed exports can be secured for fledgling Irish companies. Other initiatives aimed at securing jobs in Ireland include the ‘Succeed in Ireland’ scheme to provide incentives to members of the diaspora to create jobs in Ireland and The Gathering, which aims to bring Irish people in all corners of the world home to their local area during 2013.

Many young people who currently find themselves unemployed will choose the route of self-employment and entrepreneurship skills must be encouraged at every juncture. A micro finance scheme has been introduced and up to €1.2 million in extra funding has been made available for mentoring and management. There are also plans for increased mentoring of SMEs by top business leaders, multinationals and large Irish companies. I believe that such mentoring can be crucial for Ireland’s young entrepreneurs.

These are just some of the initiatives that this Government is pursuing with vigour, but of course much more remains to be done. More work remains to be done on the high cost of doing business in Ireland and rates are a particular difficulty being faced by many businesses.

One real difficulty facing young people in Ireland today is the rapidly changing nature of the jobs market. Young people who left school in the early years of this century often found themselves lured into the world of work as opposed to training or further education, by the high wages on offer in booming sectors such as the construction and property sectors. Now that those sectors have collapsed, many of them find themselves with repayments or financial obligations that make a return to college extremely difficult. Yet there is little prospect of gaining a job in their former sector in the medium term and re-skilling appears to be the only route to a new job.

The economic earthquake experienced in Ireland in the past decade has left many firms reluctant to take people on full time and more and more jobs are contracted out or people are hired on short-time contracts. Looking to the future, re-skilling and upskilling will be a constant feature of everyone’s working life if they are to stay afloat in a rapidly changing work environment.

That re-skilling and up-skilling of the nation’s workforce is underway and will continue to gain momentum in coming years. The prospect of a job for life is not something that many of Ireland’s young people can look forward to, rather their career will be a steady progression of gaining skills, adding experience to those skills and gaining new skills to take them on to a different level.

Before I conclude, I would like to address you very briefly on the subject of the Children’s Rights Referendum which will be held on November 10th next. I believe that a Yes vote is imperative to secure the rights of Ireland’s most vulnerable children. Essentially, this Bill elevates the rights of a huge section of the Irish population, those under 18, and seeks to give them stronger protection under the Constitution.

The only negative aspect of this Bill is the fact that it took the revelation of unimaginable misery endured by Irish children over decades to prompt the bringing forward of this legislation. The scenes of this misery were myriad, homes throughout the country, industrial schools, churches, mainstream schools, sporting venues and many other venues. The past two decades have seen a spotlight shone into very dark corners of Irish life, illuminating incredible neglect and abuse of children, including neglect on the part of the state, which handed over responsibility for the care of vulnerable children to church-run institutions and then failed to follow up on its responsibility by properly monitoring those institutions.

Such neglect and abuse is not a thing of the past and we must keep to the fore in our minds that cases will always arise where children are being neglected or abused, what is absolutely necessary is that all authorities are acutely aware of the signs and symptoms of such neglect or abuse, proper safeguarding procedures are in place and that this is backed up by legislation which at all times places a premium on the safety of all Irish children.

The law as it stands certainly requires changing and I welcome the fact that a referendum will take place as this I believe will result in a wider discussion on children’s rights in our society and a greater awareness of the necessity of this Bill.

There are four elements to the Government’s intent in bringing forward this Bill and I believe that all four are to be welcomed. The first is to give children their own rights within the Constitution and to give recognition to the views of the child and support enhanced child protection through the state’s ability to respond proportionately to concerns.

The second policy intent is to give children special protection under the Constitution, recognising their potential vulnerability and offering greater protection.

The Bill also removes obstacles for married parents to voluntarily place their children for adoption. Another key element in terms of this Bill is the ending of the Constitutional situation where children may be treated differently on the basis of their parent’s marital status when it comes to issues such as adoption.

Of course, all of this is done while respecting and preserving the rights of the family as set out in the Constitution. Supporting families is key to the success of this legislation and in particular, providing appropriate responses where children are living in particularly vulnerable situations, up to and including situations where the circumstances require intensive long-term support, including out-of-home care for children at risk.

I have been appointed by Fine Gael to lead the drive for a Yes vote among young people and I would urge all present here today, all of whom have an interest in the future of the nation’s young people, to do your utmost to ensure that this Bill is properly communicated to your peers and in your local communities and to ensure that your friends fully appreciate the need for the Bill and the provisions it contains when it comes to Polling Day.

This Bill really will make a difference to some of the most vulnerable children in Irish society, both now and in the future.

Thank you for your time.