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Economic Initiativies And Sustainable Employment 23/4/2013

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I certainly welcome this type of debate on the basis of the value that our young people are to us and to our economy.

I take a slightly different tack to that of the proposer of the motion.  I do not believe that we can come at this from a very narrow base.  That having been said, the solutions are not necessarily within the gift of the of Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister.  There is a solution or solutions that exist within the gift of the Employment and Learning Minister and the Education Minister.  

The one thing I want to say is this: we need to put a value on and appreciate our young people and the resource that they are to the economy.  Many are talented, many are well educated, and many could well make a contribution to employers.  Often, the employment situation produces circumstances that do not allow them to make that contribution.  We have to find a way out of that situation.  

We need to find the opportunities that exist, exploit them and present them to our young people so that they gain the skills and personal development that is needed for them to grow into people of much more responsibility.  We need to find opportunities for them to take the skills and the education base that they have and commercialise their skills and education, so that they are of much greater value to employers.  

There are opportunities that can be exploited.  From my previous experience — I am tempted to say, "When I worked for a living, before I went into politics", but I will not — when I was doing some work with DEL, I realised that commercialising the skills of graduates is one of the keys to their future.  It is a key and an aspect that employers demand.  More and more, employers demand that young people should hit the deck running.  We need to look at how we can exploit those opportunities for our young people.  The proposer of the motion may be looking at this with some degree of parochialism or a narrow attitude. 

I have used the word "parochial".  I pay tribute to the Minister and the work that she has done.  If I get the chance, I will come back to the work that Stephen Farry is doing.   

In terms of the parochial attitude, our young people should be valued as people who can operate not only in a Northern Ireland context but in a global one.  The skills that they have, the skills that they bring to it and the skills they will eventually bring to it as they develop will be appreciated globally, not just in a narrow focus.  If Northern Ireland is to develop its export base, it has to have people in business who can think globally and act locally.  That is where I am coming from. 

Allowing our young people to grow does not mean that we should confine them to east Belfast, Tyrone or wherever it might be.  It also allows them to think about opportunities abroad.  If we plan opportunities abroad, present training for them to take such opportunities and opportunities for them to commercialise their skills abroad, many of them will come back.  Others may not come back, because the career that they find for themselves in Australia or wherever may be more attractive than coming back.  That is our loss.  It is a loss to the Northern Ireland economy, but we should not restrict our young people in that way.  With regard to planning for our young people abroad, Martin McGuinness launched a book on helping, as he described it, Irish people — I hope that he means all of us here — moving to Western Australia.  That is to be welcomed as a step, but it also recognises the fact that our young people will seek opportunities abroad.

The apprenticeship training scheme was mentioned, and it has two aspects: the employer-led apprenticeship, which has an 82% success rate of young people moving from apprenticeship into employment and the programme-led apprenticeship, where we are failing our young people.  It has only a 22% chance of apprentices achieving an NVQ level 2, and it is not valued by employers.  We need to address that sort of thing.

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