Safety Valve On/Off

A typical suitcase
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In troubled times, young Irish people leave this country for opportunities abroad.

The trend of outward migration that summed up the desperation of the 1980’s has, seemingly, returned. Ireland’s traditional safety valve is on again. The recent live register figures show an overall decrease in the numbers of people signing on for the first time since 2007. Care must be taken when interpreting these figures, but one clear message is that the dip in the type of person signing on is coming mostly from males under 25.

Young people under 25 are only doing one of four things if they are not working for someone else. They are starting a business, they are returning to education, returning home to live with their parents, or leaving the country. Given the time of year the CSO figures cover, the first two options are less likely. Company registration figures don’t show a huge upturn in businesses formed. Young people under 25 are also ideal as economic migrants. The share of younger workers in the labour force is around 15%. The only way to keep these workers in Ireland is to begin active labour market policies like classroom and on-the-job training to rapidly re-integrate into employment those who lose their jobs.

Active labour market policies are expensive, and only work well over 3-5 years.

Given current funding constraints, only a complete overhaul of FÁS would achieve the kinds of large-scale beneficial effects on the labour market in a revenue-neutral manner. For example, one-third of the 1 billion euro FÁS budget goes on the community employment scheme, which provides public support for part-time community and voluntary work, employing just 20,000 people.

We have a choice: look inward, and change our provision of public services to help the unemployed find work, and so stay in Ireland with us, or bid them goodbye.

Published in today's Sunday Independent.