Derry MLAs express 'grave concern' over closure of School Employer Connections

SDLP Foyle MLAs Sinéad McLaughlin and Mark Durkan have expressed grave concern following the announcement of the closure of School Employer Connections on June 30.
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School Employer Connections was informed at the end of March that the Department of Education would no longer provide core funding due to Departmental financial pressures.

Ms. McLaughlin said: “Over the last twenty-five years, thousands of young people have benefited from School Employer Connections. Without the organisation, many would simply have never found their right career path and the guidance as well as work experience that SEC provides have been invaluable, particularly to those young people in the North West who receive a specific focus from the organisation.

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“We also know that the organisation plugs the gaps in the provision of careers education in Northern Ireland, which is too often deprioritised in our system. Better alignment between schools and employers is crucial if we are to address the skills deficit in our labour market and improve our economy.

Derry SDLP MLAs Sinéad McLaughlin and Mark H Durkan.Derry SDLP MLAs Sinéad McLaughlin and Mark H Durkan.
Derry SDLP MLAs Sinéad McLaughlin and Mark H Durkan.

“It’s even more frustrating that such a decision has been taken in the absence of Ministers. We should be back in the Assembly, putting such vital issues on a Minister’s desk and lobbying for change. Instead, those of us who want to do our jobs have been locked out by the boycott of one party and it is our young people who are paying the price.

Mr. Durkan said: “As the axe falls on more and more community services, it’s unconscionable that those most in need are losing out, including those young people who benefitted enormously from this organisation.

“This is another measure which is designed to save money but will instead prove much more costly in the long run for our economy, particularly in the North West. Our community has stood shoulder to shoulder over recent weeks on the relentless cuts that have been announced by the Department. The SDLP will continue to do whatever we can to stand up against this Tory austerity and advocate for those organisations who have been so cruelly affected by these short-sighted decisions.”

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School Employer Connections is a student / employer work placement broker that has operated in the North West and across Northern Ireland for the last twenty-four years (formerly as FOSEC) and was recently been advised of a significant cut in the amount and duration of its funding for 2023/24 by its principal funder, the Department of Education.

School Employer Connections.School Employer Connections.
School Employer Connections.

A registered charity, SEC has typically received 80% of its annual operational funding requirement from the Department.

The Chairman of SEC Roy Devine said recently when it was announced that a major cut was being proposed: “The possible loss of service will have long term impact on the economy. These decisions negatively affect the preparation of students for employment in a climate where skills and qualifications are key. They will become disenfranchised. Employers will have less access to and influence on the talent pipeline”.

In the year past SEC engaged with 7,854 students, up from 6,516 students in the previous year. SEC has a team of 6 full-time and part-time staff as well as a small team of volunteers who assist in the delivery of its programmes.