Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Young people see JobsBridge and Gateway as exploitative – Senator Kathryn Reilly

14 November, 2014 - by Kathryn Reilly


Sinn Féin Senator Kathryn Reilly today spoke at the UCC Europa Society on the issue of Youth Unemployment in Ireland and Europe.

Europa is one of only two such societies in Ireland that aims to increase the promotion and awareness of European issues and make the debate and discussion of such issues more accessible to the student body and public at large.

Speaking at the conference Senator Reilly said young people see the JobsBridge and Gateway schemes as exploitative and believe that they were designed to massage unemployment figures.

She said;

“The much-heralded JobBridge or Gateway schemes which were set up as part of an effort to curtail youth unemployment levels will not fix the youth unemployment problem.

“While acknowledging that some individuals have had a positive experience, both are widely recognised by young people as exploitative measures designed to remove them from the dole queues and massage the numbers.

“We believe that youth employment initiatives must be treated as long-term continuous investment in quality jobs, education and training for young people.

“I would like to see the incoming commission put youth unemployment high up on their agenda and I would like to see specifics in the commission’s investment plan on how quality jobs will be created for young people in a package addressing both economic governance in Europe as well as well working targeted measures such as the youth guarantee and longer term policies on education that support life-long learning.”

ENDS

Full text of Senator Reilly’s speech follows:

The combined effects of youth unemployment and in particular long term unemployment combined with high rates of non-participation in education and training have serious personal, social and economic consequences.

A Eurofound study of the costs of youth unemployment across the EU showed that the Irish exchequer loses €3.16 billion annually as a result of lost tax revenue and social welfare transfers arising from our high rate of youth unemployment. This is equivalent to 2% of Gross Domestic Product.

Similarly, the Eurofound report estimated that the cost to the EU arising from young people not in employment, education or training is at least €153 billion annually.

CSO figures recently revealed that over the last two years, 76,300 under 34s left the Irish labour market.

The 2 previous Budget cuts to the under 25s’ Jobseekers Allowance which leaves them 56% below the ‘at risk of poverty’ rate does nothing to support our young people.

Given the scale of the youth unemployment across the EU, and particularly in Ireland, there has been a significant increase in the level of public and policy debate on how best to respond to what many believe is a crisis.

But in any response, it is important to take a long-term view as well as seeking to understand the immediacy of a crisis.

Today we are being asked to speak about youth unemployment in Ireland and Europe.

What we are discussing here must not merely be a mechanism for moving people off the live register. Rather, it must change the system and be part of a wider dialogue or discourse about employment, employment generation and economic regeneration.

In my comments today, I’d like to address some issues like the Youth Guarantee, precarious employment and schemes currently operating in Ireland.

Youth Guarantee

The European Council was explicit in what the Youth Guarantee should promise “that all young people under the age of 25 years receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprentice or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.”

However the European Youth Forum spoke for many when they said that the €6 billion Youth Employment Initiative fund is grossly inadequate to fully address the problem of youth unemployment.

The Forum went on to say that “Only a youth guarantee scheme that received adequate investment, is accessible to all, and works in the interests of young people will be able to address youth unemployment and boost the European economy.‟

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on EU Affairs report made 12 recommendations. Those of relevance of us here today and which I will comment further on include:

1. That the European Commission, Council and Parliament should consider increasing the total available funds for the Youth Guarantee in recognition of the scale of the problem across the EU.
2. That the design, implementation, governance and on-going evaluation of this scheme should involve relevant Government departments, employment services, educational and training bodies, employers, youth services, youth advocacy organisations and young people.
3. That the Ballymun pilot Youth Guarantee is rigorously evaluated to test the transferability of the model to other locations, particularly those with lower levels of community support.
4. That the scheme should in particular focus its attention on the long term youth unemployed, those with low skills levels and those not currently engaging with employment services or formal training and education.
5. That Government should allocate significant resources, both financial and human, to develop and implement a Youth Guarantee taking into account the levels of investment in similar schemes in other EU member states. In doing this they should actively consider examples such as the Swedish Youth Guarantee which costs approximately €6,600 per participant.
6. Any Youth Guarantee scheme must include on-going monitoring and evaluation to ensure that there is consistency and coherence across the state. Monitoring and evaluation systems must include strong systems for participant evaluative feedback and for collation of data focusing on the effectiveness and outcomes of the schemes.

At a European Youth Conference in Rome last month, the limitations of the youth guarantee were highlighted by youth organisations themselves. They reported that, whilst at the start they were consulted and involved, now when it comes to the actual roll-out of the scheme there has been little consultation with youth organisations.

This has been echoed to me in consultations right across the state for the Joint Oireachtas Committees report on the youth guarantee and in my role as SF Spokesperson on Youth Affairs.

This paints a negative picture for the future of the scheme – according to Eurobarometer, only two out of ten young people have heard of the scheme. To make matters worse I have met workers within the system who havent heard of the scheme or the role they are expected to play in its implementation.

We need to reorient our current structures, and indeed fund them, towards the needs of young people and bringing in measures in which young people can believe. It may be a matter of bringing in youth organisations as part of a monitoring mechanism to ensure the youth guarantee schemes that are introduced are always in the interest of the young people who participate in them. We need independent monitoring of the youth guarantee in Ireland. We will need to know whether it is working and we need the involvement of the young people who are using the system. The latter is vital. There is not enough external evaluation of public employment services.

Of particular concern to us is the focus on the young unemployed people who fail to engage: they will be sanctioned and a penalty rate may be applied. Yet no sanction will apply to the Department if it fails to deliver!

The Youth Guarantee should not just be about placing a person with any job. It should be about the development of each young person according to his or her needs and equipping him or her with skills for life.

It does not bode well for any developmental process that it is regarded as necessary to introduce a big stick: it indicates a fundamental lack of understanding of what this individualised process should entail. It is absolutely critical that the time is taken to work with the young people concerned to provide them with a meaningful option and that the resources are put in place to support them to make the most of this opportunity. That is where youth organisations come in.

One must put oneself into the shoes of disadvantaged young people. Many young people might have had a very bad experience of the education system. The level of trust of young people in the system is quite low. They get the letter in the post from the FÁS office and automatically assume it contains bad news. In this respect youth organisations could serve as a bridge to the young people who will not go to a training centre. Many young people in the category in question have actually been thrown off training courses because they are not prepared. They might have had difficulties and may not have the supports necessary to help them. It is a question of support to keep them on track.

The main strength of the youth guarantee is that it forces national governments to deal with youth unemployment. The main weakness is the implementation, which strongly depends on the national conditions and therefore can be either helpful or have no impact. This is important when you consider how it is being rolled out. We know there is currently a pilot project in Ballymun. We welcome that. But concern has been expressed at how this will transfer to a rural area, or an area that doesn’t have the same infrastructure or cross departmental and agency cooperation as Ballymun. It is imperative that the Ballymun pilot is rigorously evaluated to test the transferability of the model to other locations, particularly those with lower levels of community support.

The success and results of the Youth Guarantee should not be measured in terms of numbers on the Live Register only. As many here are aware, many young people are not on the live register. There is little or no provision for:
• young people with a disability (there are approximately 10,000 young people on disability allowance)
• lone-parents or carers
• young people who are not engaged in the employment services

We cannot have a revolving door system of young people leaving placements if they are unsuitable and then returning to the Live Register, or indeed, to another inadequate and short-lived placement. If the Youth Guarantee turns into a box-ticking exercise to decrease the number on the Live Register in the short-term, it will have failed in addressing the underlying issues.

JobBridge

The much-heralded JobBridge or Gateway schemes which were set up as part of an effort to curtail youth unemployment levels will not fix the youth unemployment problem. While acknowledging that some individuals have had a positive experience, both are widely recognised by young people as exploitative measures designed to remove them from the dole queues and massage the numbers.

The only independent study into JobBridge, completed by Indecon in 2012, found that:
72pc of interns previously worked full-time and 66pc of these had been employed for more than two years.
Of those who secured employment after their internship, just 45pc were in full-time permanent jobs.The majority were either on temporary contracts or were working part-time on either a permanent or temporary basis.
Worryingly, the study also found that average hourly earnings for those who came off JobBridge schemes and into employment were just 56pc of average earnings across the economy as a whole. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of JobBridge interns - 64pc - had a degree while nearly 23pc had postgraduate qualifications.
Of the 58pc of interns who left their placement early, 38pc cited dissatisfaction with the position as the reason.
Indeed, Jobbridge’s own figures indicate that less than 20pc of companies who take on an intern offer him or her a job at the end of the process

Precarious Employment
The youth jobs crisis is not simply a lack of jobs for young people. It is also a crisis regarding the types of precarious employment available to them. We must be honest about what kinds of jobs are being created and with what consequences. Part – time work, low paid work and precarious work that provides no security or future prospects, are not an answer. Agency work, fixed-term contracts and 0-hour contracts offer very few opportunities for training or career advancement.

A recent OECD report found that Ireland now has the second highest percentage of low-wage jobs in the OECD. In 2008 92,000 people were classified as underemployed. Fast forward 6 years to today and we have 147,000 classified as underemployed. That represents a jump of 60%.

There are also 28,000 fewer young people in employment since the current government began. Ultimately, job creation remains the key to Ireland’s economic, fiscal and social recovery. Yet, despite very modest falls in the unemployment 374,800 people remain on the live register, 178,388 of these are long-term claimants, 54,300 are young people under the age of 25, and 62,937 people exist on activation programmes many with little training, pay or career benefits.


Youth Matters- Not for Export
Ireland’s youth, in my experience, believe that they are a generation being left behind - from Gortahook to Cork, from Ballinamore to Dublin. This was the overriding view expressed in consultation meetings with youth organisations and youth groups over the past year. We included our findings on critical youth issues and the Youth Guarantee in our policy document called Youth Matters: Not For Export launched in May of this year.

Whatever actions taken at European and national level need to address the sense of hopelessness and despair many young people are feeling- especially those in rural Ireland who are far removed from hubs of economic activity.


Conclusion
We believe that youth employment initiatives must be treated as long-term continuous investment in quality jobs, education and training for young people.

I would like to see the incoming Commission put youth unemployment high up on their agenda and I would like to see specifics in the Commission’s investment plan on how quality jobs will be created for young people in a package addressing both economic governance in Europe as well as well working targeted measures such as the youth guarantee and longer term policies on education that support life-long learning.

Connect with Sinn Féin