Youth unemployment: the remedies
So if under-25s are neither working nor unemployed, what are they doing? Emigration almost certainly accounts for most of the difference between lost jobs and numbers unemployed. Another reason is more people spending more time in education. Dr Dermot Stokes, a former head of the Government’s Youthreach programme, says people are extending their time in both second- and third- level education, often taking additional courses to improve their prospects in the job market.
Delaying the departure from education is a typical response to recession, and it may be the one silver lining of the bust. Among the damaging effects of the property bubble was the lure of young men from learning to building sites. Instead of investing in skills that would stand to them for life, many succumbed to the temptation to earn, often in low-skilled sectors.
While longer spells in education probably account for most of the young people who are not in the workforce, it is very likely that more under-25s who are neither at work, on the dole or in education are depending on their parents.
Gerard O’Neill of Amárach Research, who watches societal trends closely, says that even those who do leave home, for college or work, often return afterwards as courses end or jobs are lost. He notes that as fewer sectors or professions hold out the prospect of secure, stable employment, many in their mid-20s are plumping for the security of the family home.
What can be done to reverse the trends that have transformed the life chances of the young? Economic growth is by far the most important remedy. Without growth there is little prospect of sufficient numbers of jobs being created to provide opportunities for those starting out in professional life.
But policy responses can help too, because there is not a fixed number of jobs out there. More, better-trained people will create their own demand in the labour market.
“Investing in quality apprenticeships and vocational training is one sure way to keep youth unemployment low, as successes in countries such as Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland show,” says John Martin, the Irishman who heads the employment, labour and social-affairs division of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in Paris.
The international evidence points to module-based training that has tight quality control, is attractive to women, is not time-limited and is not closed to older people who have work experience.
The Irish system remains a long way from international best practice. Martin notes that it has tended to cover the traditional trades and essentially served as a feeder for the construction trade. He urges that, as far as possible, ongoing reforms of the training and apprenticeship system be driven faster and based on successful experiences internationally.
If the opportunity the crisis presents is taken and the system is radically improved, it might help future generations of young people avoid the fate that has befallen the current one.