Chris Lyttle MLA said: “We know the problems that can stem from our young people of disengaging with education, training and employment. They include increased economic inactivity for society but, most importantly, have serious detrimental effects on individuals’ health and well-being and lead to an increased risk of depression and criminal activity.
“Our welfare system is of course merely a safety net and not a replacement for the positive benefits of education or employment; however, our elected representatives need to provide leadership on that issue, not demonise our young people. For all those reasons, it is only right that the Committee for Employment and Learning have shown leadership by conducting a full inquiry as to how we might improve interventions to help young people to fulfil education, training and employment opportunities.
“The inquiry has found that many community and voluntary sector organisations conduct exceptional work on behalf of our young people. Barnardo’s and the Prince’s Trust are obvious examples and, in my constituency, some great work is going on to connect young people with creative industries such as gaming and programming as ways to link skills acquisition with relevant and rewarding employment for our young people.
“The key feedback from the inquiry is that, despite all this great work, we need improved co-ordination by government Departments. If we are to give our young people the assistance that they deserve, we need a cross-departmental strategy that sets clear aims and objectives and timescales in which to achieve them as a matter of urgency.
“The report makes a number of specific proposals for the relevant Ministers to consider. It is clear from the feedback that improved early intervention in post-primary education is essential in identifying and addressing why a pupil is becoming disengaged at an early stage.
“There is also a clear need for improved careers guidance. The Department for Employment and Learning seems to have a robust menu of options for careers guidance teachers and professionals but concerns remain about how well those are being used by schools and about the lack of monitoring and tracking of the educational, training and employment outcomes that result. That will, by definition, require co-operation between the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education.
“We will not resolve disengagement or youth unemployment overnight, and the report may not have all of the solutions. However, it is high time that we caught up with our counterparts in Scotland and Wales and made sensible arrangements for an improved and more co-ordinated response from our Government.
“Put simply, our young people are the future of this society, and we have to provide them with leadership and with the opportunities that they need to make a contribution to it. I am calling on the Minister to use the findings and recommendations of our report to lead the delivery of a strategy for Northern Ireland without delay.”