If you study hard at school, you’ll get into a good university.
If you work hard at university, you’ll get a good job.
That’s the unspoken message of educators to motivate young people to focus on developing their education. But what if education is not enough?
Over-qualified graduates are under-paid and struggling to find employment, so what incentive is there to spend years in further education loading up on student debt that may never be paid off?
In contrast, many school leavers who went to work at the age of 16 have those years of practical experience under their belt which employers are also seeking from graduates.
A degree does not by any means fully prepare a student for the workplace – the majority of learning is done on the job. With fewer companies affording the luxury of training staff, opportunities are few and far between.
Unpaid work and internships are sought after by those with multiple qualifications, yet they are often viewed unfavourably within the workplace.
Some of the most successful professionals lack formal training and have not only survived but prospered in the workplace in secure, stable jobs for years. Such jobs are increasingly difficult to find, indeed there is no guarantee these jobs exist in many sectors.
Education is a worthwhile pursuit, but many lessons cannot be taught in a classroom. Practical experience is invaluable but working for free is not sustainable in the long run.
There is an argument that working for free devalues how much employers will think you are worth, however should you turn down such opportunities – there will be a queue of people who would be willing to fill your shoes.
Consequently, many of our bright young minds are fleeing elsewhere – to London, Brussels or Australia. Not enough is being done to keep our local talent within Northern Ireland.
Why should other cities reap the benefits of the young people who have the potential to improve our own society and economy?
Northern Ireland is at a critical juncture where it cannot afford to lose one of its most valuable assets – our young people.
They are the only hope of not just our political future but also our economic prospects and if nothing is done to keep them here – they will gradually slip through our fingers unnoticed.
No young people, no hope.