February 5th, 2014
Senator Jillian Van Turnhout speaking on the issue of Youth Guarantee: Statements. Seanad Éireann
I welcome the Minister and thank her for keeping the commitment she made during the debate on the social welfare legislation to accede to my request for a discussion on this plan. I also thank my colleague, Senator O’Donnell, for her very informative report.
I welcome the plan. This is the first occasion since the advent of the financial crisis that a comprehensive plan bringing together all the elements to tackle youth unemployment has been produced. We should acknowledge the role the Minister has played in this regard, both in terms of her brief and in the context of her personal commitment to youth employment. It is extremely positive that a concerted effort will now be made to support young people from unemployment to education, training and work experience.
During the debate on the social welfare legislation, we engaged in a lengthy discussion on youth unemployment. As a result, I will use the time available to pose some very specific questions on the youth guarantee. I fully support the decision to commence the engagement process relating to the youth guarantee with the 22,000 young people who have been on the live register for 12 months or more. This makes sense. May we take it that these young people will be offered quality and appropriate educational, training or work experience placements by the end of 2014? If that were made clear, it would send out a great message to people.
I welcome the personal progression plans and the focus and early intervention for young people with a low probability of exiting the live register, PEX, score. There is a need for a two-way process between case officers and young people. Will there be a commitment to changing focus from needs of education and training providers to those of the unemployed and local labour markets? A greater number of and more intensive engagements can only happen if sufficient case workers are available. Is the Minister in a position to provide details with regard to the number of case officers and hours that will be assigned to the youth guarantee in 2014 and 2015? It is not clear from the youth guarantee implementation plan how much of the education-training provision is existing and how much will be new. This is important because it is clear, in view of demand, that merely rearranging the existing provision will not be sufficient. Will the Minister indicate, particularly in the context of education and training, where new provision will be available? I welcome the changes to schemes such as JobsPlus, particularly as these will allow employers to take on young people and obtain the wage subsidy for those under 25 who are on low to medium PEX scores and who have been unemployed for four months rather than being obliged to wait for 12 months. This is a welcome initiative and I thank the Minister for putting it in place.
The Minister correctly pointed out that some of the targets are ambitious. I was very happy when I discovered that the expected number of new JobBridge places for young people is set at 5,000 for 2014. Given that 6,000 young people under 25 have participated on the scheme since July 2011, however, this means that the Department proposes to almost reach in one year a target it previously took two and a half years to achieve. Will the Minister provide further information in respect of this matter and on the proposed JobBridge scheme for disadvantaged youth? I am interested in the latter but I would welcome additional detail in respect of it. I welcome the strong focus in the plan on disadvantage. Those in this category are often missed by plans of this nature because we tend to go for the low-hanging fruit and forget about that which is difficult to reach. I am disappointed that the opportunity to harness the capacity of the youth work sector in the context of supporting the implementation of the guarantee has been missed. I know the Minister has had some very positive meetings with representatives from the National Youth Council of Ireland and other youth work organisations on this issue. The reality is, however, that it will be challenging for State agencies to reach and engage with young people who are most disadvantaged. This is because those agencies lack the connections into the community that those youth sector already have in place. As already stated, the plan represents a missed opportunity and this regard and perhaps it might be possible to review the position that has been adopted.
The Minister may be able to answer some of the questions I have posed now. Perhaps she might respond in respect of the others at the earliest opportunity. I thank her for her vision, commitment and proposal to drive the youth guarantee forward. We are focusing on the right area and my questions are intended to achieve the results we all want to achieve.