The government will use its presidency of the European Union next year to advance plans for a “youth guarantee” scheme that would ensure young people who are out of work will automatically be directed into employment, education or training.
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said she will use the presidency, from January next year, to help deliver proposals for the new scheme, which would be targeted at any under-25s who are out of work.
She was unable to say when the scheme could be delivered or how much it would cost, but she expressed confidence that money could be sourced from the European Social Fund.
Latest figures from Eurostat, the European statistics agency, show unemployment among people aged 18-24 in Ireland is at about 30 per cent, while levels in Greece and Spain are just over 50 per cent.
“All the evidence is that a prolonged period of youth unemployment – especially for young men – is extremely damaging,” Ms Burton told The Irish Times. “The purpose of a youth guarantee is to reduce that period to as short a time as possible and offer alternative pathways.”
She said similar schemes in Austria and Germany – which have relatively low levels of youth unemployment – have proved successful.
Under the plans, which are still being drawn up at European level, governments would initially fund training, further education or apprenticeships for any young person who is out of work for four months or more.
As the job-seeker then gains more experience in the workplace, the employer would begin to pay.
Ms Burton said she would be hosting a meeting of other European social protection ministers in February of next year and would work “flat out” to push the plan forward.
“If the EU is to return to its founding mission, then it has to rebalance to include a really linked-up focus on how young people transition from school and college into the world of work.”
Groups such as Youth Work Ireland and the National Youth Council of Ireland have urged the Government to adopt some form of youth guarantee, but have pointed out that many young people cannot afford to wait much longer for support.
Fianna Fáil’s social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea said he supported any measure that would target youth unemployment, but said the youth guarantee plan sounded too vague.
“The bottom line is there are no jobs and about 100 people emigrating a day,” he said. “Training and education is fine, but to qualify into what?”
Many future training and apprenticeship opportunities will be available through Solas, a new agency which will replace FÁS. This authority will be responsible for the co-ordination and funding of further education and training through vocational education committees.
Ms Burton said she was keen to see courses and apprenticeships of high quality and to have close links with employers, as is the case in countries such as Germany.
In the meantime, she said reforms were under way to create a series of “one-stop shops” where jobseekers of any age could get advice and support on welfare and job opportunities. This is part of the Government’s policy of creating a social welfare service that is less impersonal and places a greater emphasis on giving unemployed people advice on training and job opportunities.
The first of these offices is due to be opened in Sligo shortly, while 20 more will come into operation over the coming months.
Ms Burton said she wanted to build closer connections between the welfare system and local employers and is planning a series of roadshows to promote these links.