Rural unemployment: Is enough being done?
As the job announcements roll in thick and fast for our urban areas, Rebecca Kincade investigates the higher-than-national average figure of unemployment that currently stands in our rural areas. Have these job seekers been forgotten about and what support is out there to help them find work?
I grew up in the countryside. It was an idyllic up-bringing, full of open spaces, fresh air and long walks, but the reality of my childhood was that it would always have to come to an end. At some point I would have to leave the good life of my rural setting and move closer to where I could continue with higher education and eventually find a job.
At 18, I packed up my bags and set off for pastures new. Just like so many others. But what happens to people who choose to stay? With the seemingly endless new job announcements, mostly listed in Belfast or Derry-Londonderry, are young rural job seekers being left behind and forgotten about?
Una Mackle from Garvagh has just completed her degree from the University of Ulster. She told me about her experience of job hunting close to home: “I’d love to have been able to find work near my family but my only real option was to move to Belfast or to sign on for the dole straight after my degree. Opportunities in rural areas are few and far between and nepotism is rife so unless you know the right person, it is most difficult to find a job. Most of my friends now live and work in Belfast too. Only one friend has a remained in the country and she was unemployed for months before she found her current job.”
Boost your chances
Edel McMahon, Project Officer with BOOST, a programme funded by the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2007-15, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department for Employment and Learning, spoke to me about the help available for young people in rural areas.
The Boost Programme, designed and managed by enterprise and employability experts Advantage, provides unemployed 16-24 year olds with a complete package of resources, support and guidance to ensure they have the skills and attitude needed to compete in today’s difficult job market.
Just under half of all young people, 47% to be exact, live in a rural area in Northern Ireland and Edel says that the outlook for these job seekers is fairly bleak: “The number of young people not in full time training, education or employment continues to grow. In February 2011 this figure stood at 20.3% and at February 2014 it was at 23.1%, according to DETI statistics.”
There are several factors that contribute to the harsh landscape faced by these job seekers. Often they will have limited access to transport to reach interviews or attend regular shifts. Many will have left school early, without gaining proper qualifications and poor broadband and mobile coverage can make job search and employability advice via the internet difficult to attain.
Get that job
The Boost Programme complements the guidance young people have already received at school or college, building on what they already know with real life, practical advice that gives them the inside track on what employers are really looking for. It is also available once they leave full time education or training, at the point when they need it the most.
She added: “Our aim at Boost is to help increase these young people’s chances of finding employment in their local area by ensuring they are job ready.”
Edel explained: “Our “Get that Job Toolkit” includes an interactive disc that allows you to work through the practical skills required by employers at your own pace, in your own home. We have a CV app that allows our participants to construct a professional CV using a layout approved by employers. Once they complete it, they can then send it into our team and we can help to tailor the content to suit a specific job. We also offer one-to-one support in job centres and through our CV clinics, where attendees leave with a finished quality CV at the end of the day.”
The programme also provides participants with a £25 interview essentials payment to go towards their job hunt essentials such as new clothes or transport costs. Completion of the programme secures a certificate from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and ongoing support from Advantage for six months, which includes a fortnightly Job Bulletin of available roles from across Northern Ireland.
Since the programme started in 2012, almost 1,000 people have taken part. A survey conducted amongst Boost participants at the end of 2013 indicated that 33% have returned to education, 27% are employed full time, 10% are employed part time, 3% are in training and just 27% are still unemployed.
Criteria and uptake
Edel continued: “This year, we have already had an amazing uptake, with 1,700 young people pre-registering for the programme.”
In order to apply for the BOOST programme, you must be aged between 16-24 unemployed and not currently in full time education or training. A postcode checker is used to check if you live in a rural area.
Ms McMahon added: “People should be aware that we are here. We can even come to community groups and hold CV clinics for up to eight people at a time. This is a free service available to all unemployed young people in rural areas.”
Deidra was a participant on the BOOST programme. She said: “I am glad I signed up to the BOOST Programme. I was able to go into an interview prepared and confident. I knew what the interviewers were looking for, so I was able to understand their questions better and give them great answers that I had prepared with the BOOST Outreach Officers. I felt like I went into my interviews with an upper hand. I would describe my experience of the BOOST Programme as informative, enjoyable and innovative. Since my time on the programme, I have now been able to gain employment in two jobs.”
While these job seekers haven’t been forgotten, the support available is much sought after. Providing the skills for these young people to enable them to reach interview stage is invaluable, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are simply too few jobs in these areas. Perhaps the solution to this problem needs to take a step back further into the chain and address the real issue that is leading to this higher-than-national average figure.