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Time To Really Support NI’s Economically Inactive

New NIEESS support service will begin this journey

By Shirelle McIvor, Programme Manager of Explore Enterprise Support Service

The term economically inactive has been bandied about by commentators and reporters every time the latest employment figures are announced. In the wake of the pandemic, it has been a topic that has been explored, but it mainly focused on those who have taken early retirement.

Young people, in particular, have been practically invisible in the discussions. As have those that have a desire to become entrepreneurs or self-employed.

With the Northern Ireland Explore Enterprise Support Service, we aim to not only end that but to offer practical, focused support. It has been designed as a bespoke, tailored service.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency 2022 Labour Market Report says that the ‘economically non-responsive’ made up 28.3% of the 16-64 year-old population. That means more than a quarter of the eligible working population. That is a huge part of the population not working or looking for work.

The Explore Enterprise Support Service is not just a response to this. It is recognising the issue. It is about recognising that behind every statistic, every number bandied about in numerous column inches, there is an individual. An individual that has some vision of their future.

Between now and March 31st 2025 support for those individuals will amount to 1,200 people receiving the right package of mentoring and advice.

Similar programmes have been undertaken before, and there is evidence that they work. However, when European funding ended we needed a new way to move forward.

This project has received £1.8m from the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and is set to target around 1,200 individuals aged 16 and above.

The service, delivered by the 27 Local Enterprise Agencies and the Prince’s Trust, will improve enterprise, interpersonal, and employability skills of those taking part, helping them improve their marketability as a candidate and ultimately become self-employed or find a job.

However, in terms of the target market, it is economically inactive individuals we all know that is going to be a difficult market. It will be challenging to get the word out to those people who fall into that category, but they are the most in need of the services that we provide.

When any of those individuals come to either the Prince’s Trust and speak to the volunteers there or business advisors or see the local enterprise agencies, the first thing that we want to do is to complete a specialist needs assessment on them to find out where they are, where they want to be and most importantly find out what barriers that they have that are stopping them from getting where they want to be. In a lot of cases, the perceived barriers there might not actually be a barrier in their case.

That is why we are not pursuing a one-size fits all approach. Each participant will have a tailored development plan, with actions that we will complete with the individual.

Northern Ireland has a long history of entrepreneurship and creativity. Even today the UK list of leading entrepreneurs is populated by many from Northern Ireland.

We are not aiming at propelling 1,200 people onto those listings - although that would be an added bonus. What we are aiming to do is equip 1,200 people with the skills and confidence to develop their own business idea, and hopefully a path to self-employment.

We will take each business idea and examine it with the individual. Have they got the skills and knowledge to take it forward? If not we can work with them through issues that may have put them off. Financial, legal and marketing are just some of the words that can frighten people. We aim to demystify these processes and assess what is right for that person.

Of course, that business idea may change during the assessment. Equally many will go through the process and decide that they want to return to the job market.

To help in looking for employment we can look at their CV, develop action plans for them going forward in terms of their employment, look at what a job may be and what they’re good at. We recognise that for many people low confidence is what’s preventing them from ever getting a job so we want to tackle that.

With the 1,200 people, we aim to provide wrap-around support, and we do not aim to shoehorn them into a path that does not suit them.

We’re very excited about the new service and how it puts the citizen at the centre of a range of supports connecting them with the right support at the right time.

In doing so, we feel our partnership with Prince’s Trust NI will ensure people throughout Northern Ireland experiencing the barriers of economic inactivity will have the opportunity to make personal and positive strides in their lives.

By encouraging out-of-work individuals to develop themselves both personally and professionally, the aim of the service ultimately is to boost the economy by helping participants become economically active.

NIEESS is aimed at individuals who have been out of employment for a minimum of four weeks and those who are currently unable to start a new position due to everything from a lack of transferable skills to an inability to engage with the job market due to personal circumstances.

The service delivery partners will identify mentors and trainers who will be on-hand for the service users to offer a participant centric approach meaning everyone who signs up will be given a tailored package of support which will provide holistic support targeted to their individual needs and areas where people require the most assistance.


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