Saturday 18 November 2017

Spring into a brighter future

You've lost your job? You want to upskill and give yourself a better chance of getting back to work?

Katherine Donnelly Education Correspondent

THE sharp, shock of unemployment is hitting thousands of people who never thought it could happen to them. A generation that expected to have the choice of a job for life is suddenly confronting the dole queue.

Some entered the workforce at a time when the Leaving Cert was still a passport to a life-long career; increasingly, others came with higher qualifications.

They may have as many as 20 years' experience in the workplace and with a lot still to give.

Latest figures from the CSO give some stark facts: between 2007 and 2010 there was a 300pc rise in the number of people with a third-level qualification who lost their job.

This highly qualified group still accounts for the smallest proportion of those unemployed -- 66,100, or 22pc, of the total -- but it's a sign of the times that they experienced the most dramatic change in their employment fortunes.

A further 85,000 of those registered unemployed at the end of 2010 have reached Leaving Cert level, while 48,000 have Post Leaving Cert (PLC) qualifications.

The faces behind those statistics are of people who were employed in many walks of life. Over half of those who lost jobs in the construction industry, probably including a significant number of craftspersons, have at least a Leaving Cert or PLC.

In manufacturing, over 66pc who have lost their jobs have a Leaving Cert or PLC, while in the services sector, more than three-quarters have a Leaving Cert or PLC and 33pc have a third-level qualification.

An unexpected loss of job is problem enough; what is even more worrying is that graduates are now also experiencing a drift into long-term unemployment, which is measured as the point at which someone has been on the dole queue for 12 months.

The challenge for anyone losing a job is to avoid that.

The experience of an involuntary job loss is a time to take stock of strengths: the combination of qualifications, skills and experience which have already underpinned a career.

It is also important to recognise that just because a job vacancy title, or the skill requirements being sought, have a new or unfamiliar name, does not make them the preserve of younger and more recent graduates.

With or without the downturn, new technologies are driving constant change in the workplace and employers need skills in different forms from those that went before.

Those who already have qualifications, from Leaving Cert to Masters degrees and years of on-the-job experience, those who have learned how to learn, are well- positioned to keep pace with the moving times.

This is where Springboard, and the part-time higher education opportunities it offers to 5,900 unemployed individuals, comes into play.

It has a twin focus: those with, say, a Leaving Cert, who have worked in construction, manufacturing or other sectors where employment is unlikely to recover to pre-recession levels, and those with qualifications up to Masters, who need to tweak their skillset to modern requirements.

Crucially, the education opportunities are being created to match existing, or predicted, needs in the workforce in areas such as food and beverages, renewable energy, information and communications technology and medical devices.

In some cases, there are vacancies waiting to be filled by people with the necessary skills and others are the experts' views of where jobs will arise.

Notwithstanding current difficulties, qualifications are the best insurance against unemployment -- and the higher the qualifications the better.

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