NI Executive failing out-of-work young people, Unissu

Belfast business owner Eddie Holmes, Chief Executive of property tech company Unissu has said the Executive is failing young people in Northern Ireland by scrapping a planned scheme to help 16-24-year-olds find employment.

Eddie Holmes was due to take on 20 young people as part of the Department for Communities Jobstart scheme but has been forced to cancel the paid placements after the Draft NI Budget 2021-22 revealed that the scheme had been scrapped.

Announced by the Department for Communities in July 2020 and due to begin in November, Jobstart was initially modelled on the Kickstart scheme running in other parts of the UK and was intended to provide funding to employers to create job placements for 16-24-year-olds seeking employment.

The Draft NI Budget 2021-22 published earlier this month however showed that the Department for Communities budget and a number of key services including labour market interventions will be seriously hit.

Unissu Chief Executive Eddie Holmes said: “It is shameful that the Jobstart scheme has been cancelled, at a time of rising unemployment in general, but especially when our young people are particularly struggling to find jobs. My company was ready to take on 20 young people last year as part of the scheme but unfortunately, we weren’t able to find roles for them all after it was postponed and now cancelled.

“However, the most worrying aspect of all this is that we are really only the tip of the iceberg. For these 20 positions, we received over 700 applications. It is clear that there is a youth unemployment crisis bubbling under the surface in Northern Ireland.

“For years, our politicians have spoken of the brain drain and its effect on the Northern Ireland economy. Without schemes like Jobstart, especially as the economic shock of the pandemic continues, more and more young people will find themselves out of a job, unskilled, or economically inactive, and will be forced to leave NI to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

“It’s time for the Executive to match their rhetoric on youth unemployment with action. Funding the Jobstart scheme is estimated to cost just £17m, a drop in the ocean compared to other Covid financial support schemes. It goes without saying that the potential cost of inaction will far outstrip the cost of the scheme. Ministers must put their money where their mouths are and fully fund this vital scheme.”

Bronagh Haughey, Marketing Intern at Unissu, said: “I graduated from my master’s degree at Ulster University last year and, after finding it difficult to find graduate work during the pandemic, I applied to Unissu as part of the Jobstart scheme. It was a big relief after months of job hunting so it came as a bitter blow when it was postponed twice and then finally cancelled.

“Young people have already feel left behind over the past year and we don’t feel as if the Executive really understands how the pandemic has impacted and affected us. The toll on our mental health has been huge, we’ve missed out on important milestones, lost out on education and development, and now we’re at the bottom of the pile when it comes to finding employment.

“Ironically, I could return to Liverpool where I did my undergraduate degree and be employed by Unissu under GB’s Kickstart scheme. Without government support soon, I may be forced to look elsewhere for a job. I would urge the Executive to protect young people like me, help us find meaningful work, and support us as much as possible.”