We must tackle youth unemployment - MLA

SDLP's Pat Ramsey.  (1005JB04)
SDLP's Pat Ramsey. (1005JB04)

An issue that has affected us all recently is youth unemployment in Derry, and Northern Ireland as a whole. I believe that the motivation to work is there, and that organisations that help individuals gain employment must be continually improved upon to help us move forward.

The entire city is surely disappointed by the recent figures revealing that unemployment levels in Derry are 2% higher than any other area in Northern Ireland.

In August, 17,000 claimants between 18 and 24 received jobseeker’s allowance, with 10% of them located in Derry. The rate of the claimants is 16%, much higher than other areas of the North, such as Belfast at 10.5%.

The youth in our city are frustrated because they have an appetite for work. This was evident at the recent jobs fair at the Millennium Forum. The fair was an overwhelming success, with the numbers queuing in their thousands. However, they see no future and are further marginalised, becoming de-motivated and demoralised. On behalf of those I represent, I want programmes that are targeted in a much more meaningful way than at present.

Schemes such as LEMIS and Pathways to success have been active in trying to aid young people in finding employment. I favour any schemes in place to help youth employment. However, as you’ll agree, unemployment figures don’t appear to be improving. We accept in good faith that these projects are working, but, clearly, they are only stabilising and not making any inroads. There are great examples of the use of small businesses in Northern Ireland to train and service young people. We in government must ask ourselves are we opening ourselves to these opportunities and being innovative enough in doing that.

In October, £1 million was handed back for youth employment projects by the department. As you can imagine, there are youth employment schemes that could benefit from this money; one look at the unemployment figures would tell you this. Innovation is what is needed to face these challenges. The financial resources are available, but they must be channelled into the right area. I am constantly raising these points in assembly and to ministers and will continue to do so.

I am also continually raising the idea of a tracking system for the young population seeking work, meaning that we could identify all young people individually and make sure we have a complete picture of the provision that they have had and where they are at any point in time. This should give us a greater understanding of the position of young people, and help us to do more for them in their search for work.

The situation young people in Derry find themselves in is frustrating, at times desperate, but not permanent. It is in all of our interest to continue to strive towards lowering unemployment figures in the city and developing superior pathways to work for the future. The Executive must strive to do better, and I will persistently make sure they do so.