Thursday, 20 August 2009

Stormont to take on Interns?

Yesterday's news carried a rather interesting development for local graduates. Northern Ireland's Minister for Employment and Learning Sir Reg Empey argued that government departments here should consider establishing internship schemes to help tackle, what is for me, a crisis level of unemployment in young graduates.

Sir Reg admits that with finances already stretched his department alone may only be able to fund only 10 such internships. Put that across all the other departments and that is a potential 110 internship vacancies to be created, potentially speaking of course. The success of such a scheme will depend on gaining cross-party support and getting other departments to commit themselves to participating in such a scheme.

I can't see any political hurdles for such a plan but there certainly may be financial obstacles. With various departmental budgets already under serious pressure will Sir Reg be able to even guarantee a minimum of 10 internship positions per department? And more importantly, will those departments that do participate in such a scheme be prepared to ensure that future recipients of such internship positions are paid a living wage?

Frankly, these proposals are a case of “too little, too late” and the creation of a potential 110 internship positions will be cosmetic and, in practice, will represent a drop in the ocean in terms of tackling current levels of graduate unemployment. The economic crisis has been in full flow for well over a year now, with unemployment figures steadily rising over this period, and the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) have been remarkably slow to react.

A “keep-the-fingers-crossed” mentality and an inability to plan ahead, by addressing what was clearly a foreseeable situation, has meant that DEL have presided over a labour market that is allowing the hopes of a generation of young people go down the plug-hole. Sir Reg is not responsible for the current economic crisis but he is culpable for its negative local impact- through his department’s inaction to address some of the local symptoms of the wider economic malaise.

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