23 January 2006

MLA calls for vocational places for school leavers


A West Belfast MLA has expressed his concern about the availability of placements for school leavers in trades and vocations.

The new school curriculum means that all young people aged 14 are entitled to 24 subjects and eight of these must be of a vocational nature.

Schools are expected to partner with other schools and colleges to ensure this entitlement is available.

However, Sinn Féin education spokesperson Michael Ferguson, after meeting with Heather Stevens, Director of Skills at the Department of Employment and Learning, said that the Government has not made sufficient arrangements to ensure that placements for young people were available.

Mr Ferguson said, “The Government requires schools to form partnerships with other schools and colleges to ensure young people leaving school are able to take up skills based trades and vocations.

“However the Government has made no arrangements to secure those placements for young people.

“Even before the change is fully implemented, young people are unable to find placements and in many cases they are put out of colleges in their second year because employers no longer want them.

“It would be grossly unfair to encourage a young person at the age of 14 to take up a trade then at 16 tell him or her that there is no place or to indenture them into a trade where they don’t receive a minimum wage.

“This is mostly the case at the moment and allows unscrupulous employers to dump them in their third year because they may be obliged to pay them a wage.

“Consequently the young person has no wage, placement and also is denied the opportunity to finish their NVQ Level 3 qualification at College.”

Mr Ferguson added: “This is the worst sort of exploitation.

“The Government has failed these young people to date and is deliberately setting targets that they cannot meet.

“This is exemplified by the Victoria Square development which promised 200 apprenticeships and delivered less than 90, few of which came from areas like the Falls and Shankill.”

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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