Youth unemployment: the proverbial white elephant

Ghost estates aren’t the only monstrocities that blight our landscape. Yes that’s right, a generation of young people who cannot find any meaningful work are degenerating en masse into a proverbial white elephant that could well leave a permanent scar on our demographic landscape.

This is an issue that is very real to my friends and I, and has been made all the more real over the last week as I cycled over 4 days through hoards of beaming parents and students milling around University Avenue off the Malone Road.

I couldn’t help but be struck by three things: firstly, I was concerned by the utter glee that oozed off all those present. Secondly, I gave thought to Class of 2007, Class of 2008, Class of 2009, Class of 2010 and Class of 2011 and a backlog of graduates who’ve been languishing on the sidelines worrying they’ve missed the boat. Then finally I was hit by Stormont inertia and the wider avoidance of the issue.

These worries are not unfounded; they are not exagerated: they are entirely sensible and grounded on hard facts.

Projected to cost £1bn by 2016, youth unemployment in Northern Ireland now stands somewhere around 20% (not accounting for Class of 2012 of course!): a rise of over 150% since the collapse of the global economy and symptomatic of a wider western malaise. Where across the 17 nation euro zone aggregate unemployment has hit 11%, and youth unemployment is lingering at a daunting 22%. However the picture gets far worse when we consider that the youth unemployment rate in Greece is at nearly 53%, at 51.5% in Spain and approaching 35% in Italy. And in the Republic 1 in 3 young men under 25 are unemployed. Across the Atlantic the US has 7 million heavily-encumbered college grads who have a monkey on their back and can’t find that first job.

I’m detracting a tad from the main plot and my primary point, but it’s necessary to paint the wider context.

The common theme for all these young people is that if they can’t shake the monkey off their back they risk lingering forever on the edges: what with skills atrophy, a decline of expectations, discouragement, disillusionment, disenfranchisement, civic alienation, substance abuse, suicide and benefits entrapment all very real and potentially irreversible problems.

Yes it is as bad as that. I should know having graduated in 2010 and yet to shake off the monkey.

There is another common and equally dangerous theme: that’s the boom for functionless degrees and even for university itself. For the first point there are many examples in hand, for, whilst not worthless, many degree titles have been become substantially devalued currencys that carry little weight in a competitive job market. As you can see in the methodologically rigourous graph below:


Ultimately the market does not need more solicitors or teachers. What it does need is IT people and engineers. More to that, it needs properly trained IT people and engineers.

My second point to that, is that the ingrained percerption that says you have failed to reach your potential if you don’t go to university is deeply damaging. It not only devalues qualifications, but it unbalances and skews the wider economy. Trades and other non-university skills are equally as important and should be equally regarded. If your a Hayekian you’d say that government intervention mucked things up there: Blair…

And back to Northern Ireland. Yes youth unemployment is worse elsewhere but that doesn’t take away from the fact that here in Northern Ireland young people are facing a lost decade and more: a very real demographic crisis and even demographic cleansing with many many young leaving for foreign markets.

Bar Farry’s ‘steps to work programme’ and a few other initiatives little is being done and a generation of irate and disgruntled young people are simmering under the wider public conscience.

Issues of parades dominate headlines and make all the noise; the Orange Order and its arcane traditions are more important sure…

Youth unemployment is not just a white elephant that blights our landscape; it’s the white elephant standing in the middle of Peter and Martin’s living room.

But this cannot stand. Youth unemployment and disillusionment cannot and must not be ignored. It must be addressed and it must be pushed further up the priority list of local newspapers. We need to understand the plight of the young person and put it in front of tv viewers and readers (does someone want to see if Mike Nesbitt wants to come live with me for a night?). If we don’t elevate the issue, we risk knocking off a huge chunk of our demographic profile – and this would hang over future generations as a social and economic drag and provide other nations with the fruits of our talented human capital.

But of course not much will be done any time soon, Stormont has clocked off for summer recess sure – Florida holiday homes are calling. That’s inspite of the fact we’re in the midst of unprecedented economic times, with a political crisis, fiscal crisis, debt, growth, demographic and every other type of crisis you can think of. Of course all these crises are compounded all the more by the Ulster Bank crisis…

I look forward to hearing what people have to say, but this is the uncensored reality coming straight from the ground.

  • FuturePhysicist

    45% of graduates get graduate jobs

    Two of the major areas with high levels of unemployment are Computer Science and Electronic Engineering.

    Yet we need More IT, we need More Engineering.

    It isn’t relevant! They’re not properly trained!

    Here’s the thing …

    Since we obviously have the willing, resourceful and enterprising employers around who can mould our graduate computer scientists and electronic engineers into profit makers then the obvious explanation is that the great engineers out there who are so intelligent, so willing, so resourceful that they hardly need any mentoring at all, in fact their only fault is an altruistic desire to make someone they call a boss a rich man when in reality they could’ve run the company by themselves.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Indeed, these companies complaining about skill shortages are very unlucky not to find them like manna from heaven.

    Well probably not manna from heaven because basically that’s some sort of insect icky syrup thinghy and there really isn’t a market for that.

  • derrydave

    The same as it ever was – if there’s no work locally then ye’ve got to get on your bike (or aiplane) and go find some ! The more things change the more they stay the same !

    Working in NI simply wasn’t an option when I graduated – maybe yound people today simply have unrealistic expectations ?

  • Mister_Joe

    It is a pity. Perhaps graduating classes need a lesson on how to declare bankruptcy to shed their student loan burden.

  • Barnshee


    “Perhaps graduating classes need a lesson on how to declare bankruptcy to shed their student loan burden.”

    Sorry the nasty government have closed that option-Student loan debts are unaffected by bankruptcy

    The “welfare state” has produced the NI problem , the “subvention” has allowed/encouraged population growth far beyond what is inherently sustainable. by the natural resources available in an agriculture based society with poor/indifferent weather.

    The subvention has also created “no job jobs” in the public sector and paid salaries far in excess of those available outside the public sector.As a result N Ireland cannot compete on cost, particularly when the costs associated with its remoteness are factored in.

    A compare at any level politicians / population, civil servants/population etc, etc highlight the “dependency” nature of N Ireland

    What fate awaits any political party who trys to “cure” the problems?

  • Greenflag

    What the young people of NI and the Republic and the rest of the UK and the USA have not grasped is that some 2 billion people have been added to the world markets effective labour supply over the past two decades since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the emergence of the BRIC countries . That numerical fact plus the ongoing technological advances which reduce the requirement for manufacturing labour , and the increased flexibility of financial capital to go wherever it wants for as long as it pays etc etc -All of the above have and continue to contribute to what you call the ‘Elephant ‘ which will continue to be a drag on the western economies .

    The western working and middle classes are being not to put too fine a point on it ‘culled’ for their own future good i.e non or much diminished existence .Even UK defence forces a traditional haven of retreat for many who could not find employment in the market economy are being downsized by 20% .

    And amidst all of this Niall Ferguson the Scottish historian
    states in his “Civiliation and the Rest’ that based on current demographic growth rates Britain will have a majority Muslim population by 2050 and ‘indigenous’ Britons (English , Welsh, Scots and N.I ) will be thus a ‘cultural ‘ minority .Which in itself may not be such a problem IF the vast majority of the immigrant population embrace British cultural and secular values .

    But in a society like the UK where increasing numbers of the younger population are being ‘failed’ by the market economy’s inability to provide employment ? what then for the political future ? Britain is already divided on the North v South economic split and to that is added the nations traditional division Scots/English/Welsh/NI Brit Unionist /NI Irish Nationalist . Add to this a growing class divide in terms of net worth and expectations and an age divide and truly the pyre of social and economic turmoil is being built with all the major parties twiddling their thumbs but keeping themselves busying by ‘reforming ‘ the House of Lords etc etc .

    Europe’s decline began in 1914 and continued apace with WW2 . The EU project in retro was/is an attempt to slow or reverse that decline . The UK despite being the USA’s junior partner and given the defence cuts likely to be a more junior partner is like it or not manacled to the fate of the Euro Zone as is Ireland .

    The ‘flat ‘ world promised or foreseen by Friedman may benefit billions of the newly emergent countries formerly agricultural populations but for the aging , non reproducing populations of the west and Japan it will bring huge challenges for economic policy makers and may be the biggest threat to what we traditionally call ‘democracy’ .

  • FuturePhysicist

    Well Greenflag despite this emergent supply of available workers many companies here …

    … don’t employ these immigrants
    … don’t hire
    … don’t employ R&D or technology
    … don’t take risks
    … don’t export
    … don’t conserve resources
    … don’t pay good

    Yet still complain about “Skill shortages”

    We talk about loss of resources yet scientists are making electronic devices smaller every year according to Moore’s Law (and a hell of a lot of work went into that)

    The great delusion here is that there will be a disgruntled Lost Generation who will be in eternal serfdom to the older generation in order to stay alive, the reality is within half a generation the roles will reverse as one grows up and the other grows older.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Also Brian I think it’s a tad insulting to include “properly trained” surely you mean “specialist” and not buy into the nonsence that engineering and IT degrees and other qualifications here are not somehow proper.

    We don’t have these specialists because we essentially “killed off” the training route through such ignorance to the fundamentals provided by a degree in the demand for a quick fix.

    Surely engineering companies know they are not expected to pass on their raw materials to a customer, so why on Earth would these same engineering companies expect a raw graduate at a low starting salary to become a specialist just out of university?