One of the single biggest challenges for the NI Executive is to promote youth employment. I was glad therefore to host the Minister for Employment & Learning, Dr Stephen Farry MLA, the then Chair of the Assembly Committee for Employment & Learning Basil McCrea MLA, Carol Fitzsimons, CEO of Young Enterprise NI and Fiona McAteer, Researcher for Basil McCrea MLA at the latest NIABT breakfast briefing.
The Minister for Employment talked about how the Youth Employment Scheme was helping young people in Northern Ireland gain vital work experience and sustainable employment. Dr Farry also highlighted the DEL NEETS Strategy Collaboration and Innovation Fund of £9m, which is intended to assist the community and voluntary sector to help bring young people closer to the labour market.
The Minister praised employers for rising to the challenge of providing work placements and opportunities to support young unemployed people. He particularly welcomed employers who are getting involved in the Youth Employment Scheme by providing sector relevant work experience opportunities which are supported by employer subsidies.
Former Chairperson of the Assembly Employment & Learning Committee, Basil McCrea MLA paid particular attention to apprenticeships and the Graduate Accelerated Programme (GAP) Scheme. Basil drew on his own personal experience of the GAP Scheme.
Fiona McAteer, who now works as a full time researcher for Basil McCrea MLA as a result of a six month GAP placement, provided some real life experience of the Scheme and how it helped her to gain full time employment.
Carol Fitzsimons, CEO for Young Enterprise NI, spoke about the need to listen to young people and to encourage self-employment, business start-up and entrepreneurial risk at the earliest possible age. Carol encouraged businesses to recruit on competency and train on skills in order to give a generation of capable and enthusiastic young people the chance to gain the experience they need for 21st Century employment.
All panellists made valuable contributions on this important issue and the briefing concluded with a question and answer session. There was a robust debate and a commitment from the Minister to continue to engage with members of the NIABT to ensure that the NI Executive, MLAs and the business community work together to increase youth employment in Northern Ireland.