-Conference concerned over high rates of youth unemployment

 -University access seems to be ineffective employment measure

Pull Quotes-

“Fás ill-equipped to deal with this crisis”

“Is it the case that so many of us have degrees that they are simply not worth anything anymore?”

Unemployment among Irish youth is nearly double the OECD average, treat according to an employment conference held in Dublin last week.

In the first quarter of 2011, unemployment among 15-24 year olds was at 46%, significantly higher than the average in OECD countries, which is at 27%.

The younger demograph has been much harder hit by unemployment than the nation as a whole, with the average national unemployment rate presently at 14.5%. Possible factors of the crisis cited at the conference included sub-minimum wage training periods, secondary school drop-out rates, and recent changes in the labour market.

The conference was attended by James Doorley of the National Youth Council of Ireland who believes the State must do more to help young people make the transition from education to the workplace.

Fás, the National Training and Employment Authority, currently uses a regional network of 20 training centres and 66 offices to serve the Irish labour market of over two million people. According to its website, Fás operates training and employment programmes, provides a recruitment service to jobseekers and employers, and acts as an advisory service for industries.

However, Doorley of the NYCI informed the conference that “Fás and the Department for Social Protection are ill-equipped to deal with this crisis.”

An OECD representative at the conference referred to the issue of foreign competition. Ireland’s 12 month trial period for jobseekers, is a considerably longer waiting period than the average German wait of 6 months. The freedom of movement of labour within Europe, currently being actively supported by the EURES initiative, has raised fears of increasing emigration.

Emigration is undoubtedly on the rise again in Ireland. Emigrant rates went up from 27,700 in April 2010 to 40,200 in April 2011. In April alone 883 people between ages 19-30 went overseas, accounting for a fifth of the nation’s emigrants that month.

Anne Sonnet of the OECD has warned that the short-term outlook for employment is gloomy for young people here. Members of the conference were warned that they cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the 1980s with regard to youth unemployment.

The NYCI have called for a series of reforms to current government employment policies. These include reversing the 2010 cutbacks in social welfare for young jobseekers, to expand the Work Placement Programme, and to set up a Youth Guarantee&Youth Jobs Fund. Such a fund would mimic UK and Dutch schemes whereby unemployed young jobseekers would work for the government for a period in order to gain experience, references and the minimum wage.

Interestingly, access to third-level training has not been mentioned by Fás, the NYCI or the OECD as an area contributing to youth unemployment. Ireland already has the highest rate of access to universities in Europe. At 50%, it is nearly double the OECD average, just as our youth unemployment rate is.

In the wake of the current youth unemployment crisis, access to universities has served students in more ways than just offering relevant job training skills. The growing trend of students pursuing Masters or a Ph.D or even just a second Batchelors has allowed many to wait out the storm in the comfort of academia.

Is it the case that so many of us have degrees that they are simply not worth anything anymore? If so, would a possible solution be to make college access more competitive and exclusive? American higher education policies seem to think so. Should we follow?

The USI have consistently opposed any measures by the government that decrease ease of access to universities. On November 16th there will be another USI march, similar to the one held this March, in protest against speculation that fees may rise to €5,000 in the December budget.

If these trends of high access to universities along with a fear of unemployment and emigration continue then it is likely we will all be tightly clutching degrees as we walk into our next job interview. The question is whether or not they will get us very far at all.

Timothy Potenz