Wednesday 28 September 2016

Latest State failure to assist the unemployed is startling

Published 04/11/2015 | 02:30

This all comes too late for the tens of thousands of participants who went through the BTEA scheme only to see little improvement in their job prospects
This all comes too late for the tens of thousands of participants who went through the BTEA scheme only to see little improvement in their job prospects

The ESRI report on one of the Government's central jobs initiatives is further proof, if it were needed, of how poorly prepared the country was for the explosion in unemployment that accompanied the economic crash.

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We already know that FAS, the former State training agency, was a shambles and had to be scrapped at a time when the nation needed it most.

Now it is clear that a major employment activation initiative, the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) scheme, was also not fit for purpose.

The scheme has been around since 1998, but participation quadrupled after 2008.

This peaked at almost 25,000 people in 2012, when employment reached 15.1pc.

As a result, a serious amount of taxpayers' money - more than €1.1bn - was spent on the BTEA in the past six years.

In comparison, just €400m was spent on it between 1998 and 2007.

The scheme allows unemployed people to continue receiving benefits while doing a second- or third-level course. The ultimate aim is to give them the skills to get into the workforce.

It is second only to the Community Employment (CE) scheme in terms of both expenditure and participation.

But it is now clear that the BTEA scheme, as it operated in the years after the crash, was far from effective.

Instead of giving participants a leg up, the ESRI believes unemployed people who did not avail of it had a better chance of getting a job than those who had.

Participants were able to almost aimlessly move from one post-Leaving Cert course to another without increasing the level of their qualifications.

Individuals were locked "into education programmes for prolonged periods with relatively little improvement to their ultimate employability", it found.

These are startling findings and beg the question as to why it took so long for such issues to become apparent.

While there has been some reform of the BTEA scheme over the years, it is clear that not enough evaluation of its efficacy was done in the past.

The Department of Social Protection says urgent reforms are planned.

It also says systems are now in place to do the type of analysis needed to determine whether jobs schemes are working or not.

A newly constructed "jobseeker longitudinal dataset" is being made available to researchers.

This all comes too late for the tens of thousands of participants who went through the BTEA scheme only to see little improvement in their job prospects.

Studies on other job initiatives, including the much-criticised JobBridge programme, are now planned. It can only be hoped that these schemes resulted in more positive outcomes than the BTEA has done in the past.

Irish Independent

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