Saturday 14 December 2019

Tackling long-term unemployment vital to Ireland's future

People queue for social welfare. Picture: Mark Condren
People queue for social welfare. Picture: Mark Condren

Tony Keohane

The good news is that Ireland is steadily getting back on track. Recent figures saw our unemployment rate fall to a five-year low of 11.2pc. Over 1,000 new jobs are being created every single week and there has been a big upsurge in confidence and investment.

For the first time since the financial crisis hit, our national level of joblessness dipped below the Eurozone average. These positive developments should not give rise to any sense of complacency. There is still a lot of work to do. This major recession had a deep impact that is still sadly being felt by countless families.

Far too many people are still out of work. It is important to recognise this fact and its effect. Put simply, it profoundly impacts on people's prospects of living a stable and happy life.

The blight of long-term and youth unemployment is one of the biggest challenges to surmount in progressing a fair recovery. Economic regeneration must not be allowed to bypass jobless households.

This Government has set out comprehensive and credible plans, including the updated 'Pathways to Work' strategy, to combat long-term unemployment. To give impetus to the implementation of these plans, almost exactly a year ago the Government appointed a number of senior industry and policy experts to a new Labour Market Council.

Its mandate under the wise chairmanship of Martin Murphy, MD of Hewlett Packard, is to advise government on the implementation of a job activation strategy, to monitor progress and to advance on reform of the labour market.

It has been a busy, but productive time for the Labour Market Council. Many of the Council's initiatives to develop closer links with employers and to support them in generating job opportunities are now coming on stream. It has sought to focus on the central role business has to play in confronting long-term unemployment and the Council has promoted measures to encourage employers to open up their work places to unemployed people.

In June, the Council produced its 'Long-Term Unemployed and Youth Activation Charter', which has already been signed by 20 of the largest companies in the State. This charter is about committing employers to prioritising recruitment of candidates from the Live Register and to working with unemployed jobseekers and support organisations. It pledges its signatory companies to guaranteeing that at least 50pc of job candidates considered for interview will come from a background of unemployment.

The charter also obliges companies, where appropriate, to provide accredited pre-employment skills to unemployed people; to participate in their local Department of Social Protection Clubs; to offer job placements/ internships through schemes, such as JobBridge, and to work with local schools to offer insights into work.

In the months ahead, the Labour Market Council will be working to get more companies to sign the charter in order to help break the vicious cycle of 'no-experience, no job - no job, no experience.'

Another flag-ship initiative will take place this Monday, with the RDS hosting Ireland's largest Back to Work Masterclass and Jobs Expo Fair. Essentially, this event will provide 1,000 unemployed people with a cost-free opportunity to get expert advice, professional training and career guidance on what they need to do to help them to get a job in the area of their choice.

The Masterclass and Jobs Expo is being organised to coincide with the Government's Jobs Week and hundreds of jobs will be on offer.

Its aim is to bring together pre-screened, job-ready individuals from the live register with human resources and recruitment professionals from some of the biggest and the most progressive business organisations in the country.

The objective is to give key tips and pointers on what job seekers need to do to get that all important interview and how to prepare and project themselves at interview time. Advice will also be available to those wishing to develop new skills or qualifications.

For employers it is an ideal opportunity, without incurring costs, to meet a group of unemployed people with potential and strong ambition to find work.

Tackling Ireland's remaining youth and long-term unemployment problems is essential for our future social and economic well-being. In the period ahead, the Labour Market Council aims to build on very constructive engagement with employers and to harness the undoubted goodwill across all sectors towards getting people back into the workforce.

Tony Keohane is Chairman of the Labour Market Council sub-committee on Employer Engagement and Chairman of Tesco Ireland

Irish Independent

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