In April of this year, a LucidTalk poll showed that 67% of young people, aged 18 – 24, do not see themselves as having a future in Northern Ireland. One organisation which seeks to change this perception and increase awareness of the opportunities which are available to young people here in NI, is Horizons Belfast.

The Scoop went along to the open invitation Q&A panel event at Stormont, hosted by the company’s Managing and Creative Directors Nigel Macauley, and Seamas De Faoite.

The event was promoted as an explanative venture which would clearly set out what it is that horizons hope to achieve through their endeavours, as well as to provide, those in attendance, an opportunity to debate about the difficulties and issues which are perceived to prevent young people from gaining employment in Northern Ireland.

It wasn’t long before a stir was well an truly created in the Senate Chamber when Nigel encouraged the group to participate in an “Ice Breaker” activity which required each person to tell the group something interesting about themselves. With numerous politicos in attendance, unfortunately we are sworn to secrecy about the nitty gritty details. However one of the recent council candidates declared that they had to photoshop a black eye out of their election poster – we’ll have to keep you guessing about that one…

It didn’t take long for debate to be started by Nigel’s “partner in crime”, Seamas De Faoite, who asked the group what they felt motivated young people to move away from Northern Ireland. Not surprisingly the answers were wide and varied, however there appeared to be a strong feeling that “work ethic is not often rewarded, but that its rather a case of who your contacts are, rather than who is best skilled at the job”.

Many of those who contributed to the discussion added that they felt that there was a huge skills gap in Northern Ireland which is hard to fill through voluntary experience due to the high levels of red tape which are in existence.

Voluntary opportunities were generally considered to be a invaluable to asset to a CV, yet concerns raised about internships which “encourage you to develop valuable skills that take time to learn, but are not an outlet through which to get paid”. This issue in particular proved to be rather controversial, as some members of the group detailing a vastly rewarding placement experience, while others expressed a sense of despair during their work placement. A counter argument was put forward that perhaps a negative experience during an internship is just as useful as a positive experience, as you will become aware that the job you have done for a few months is something which you really do not want to do long term.

A member of the Horizons Official Advisory group suggested that work experience should be incorporated into every school’s curriculum to ensure that there is an “active attempt to promote skills and to show how they connect to various institutions”. The group asserted that Northern Ireland is a fairly enterprising country, but “lacks initiative and understanding, and therefore businesses and employment opportunities require some sort of integration into the educational system”.

Seamas stated that the island of Ireland is, “the gateway to Europe from the USA” and “although the world may be better interconnected now than ever before, geography betters that”. He went on to say that he “is not against people going away and gaining skills, but certainly (we) do not feel that people need to leave forever.”

In light of the fact that the majority of brain drain within Northern Ireland occurs in young people between the age of 25-30, our reporters quizzed the Horizons team about what they have to offer which will entice these young people to return to ‘our wee country’. The team felt that this question was slightly swept under the carpet, as the Creative Director rebounded this question to the floor for debate. When this question was again pursued in the later stages of the event, The Scoop was asked to provide a solution to our own question.

Many within the group stated that they had become qualified to fulfil particular jobs, but that positions in the field in which they had been trained were not available in NI. Cllr Brett rebutted this declaration stating “the government cannot find every person a job that they want here. We need to instil an attitude to get up and go. There appears to be a sense of entitlement here in NI of let’s go out and take, but we also need to give back.”

A lot of the talk throughout the course of today had been structured around university, because of this Paul Wyatt asked the crowd how many people within the group present hadn’t gone to a grammar school (5 hands went up), and how many people intended to / were currently attending / or had just graduated from university (every hand in the room went up). This made us question what, or how the Horizons Expo event in November will accommodate school leavers, and those seeking to achieve a position on an apprenticeship.

Our reporter Tori Watson asked whether or not in the longer term Horizons Belfast seeks to penetrate, and change in some way, the education system of Northern Ireland. Creative Director Seamas De Faoite, said yes – he could see this as a long term goal of Horizons Belfast.

With respect to Horizons seeking to change the education system Seamas certain believes that nothing is unrealistic. He recited an old proverb about two people on a boat crossing a river, where both will have to paddle an oar each to reach the other side. Seamas said that young people must make it clear that they have skills which are not being fully utilised on ‘the boat’.

Tori picked up on the significance of this proverb, asking, if young people are one side of the oar, are businesses the other? And if so, how receptive have they been to the prospect of increasing the number of employment opportunities they have for young people? The Creative Director highlighted that getting young people into employment is a process, but that businesses which Horizons have contacted have been “more than interested”.

To close the session, Seamas highlighted some of the issues which he felt the group perceived to be a significant priority, including funding for voluntary projects, work experience contracts / voluntary contracts, and creating an internship / work placement code of conduct.

In just over three months, Horizons Belfast will open the doors of The King’s Hall Belfast to 150 business exhibitors, from 6 different sectors of the NI economy including Agriculture, Biotech Foods, Finance and Legal Services, I.T., Construction and Manufacturing, Retail and Trade. We will keep you up to date on all of the latest expo planning developments as and when they occur in the forthcoming weeks.


Tori Watson

Tori Watson

Tori our resident stop-at-nothing reporter, editing and writing the majority of all current news content QR has online, whilst presenting QR's dedicated news show, The Scoop. Follow The Scoop and Tori on twitter and keep up-to-date with Queen's and Belfast in general.
Tori Watson