Jobs for the boys, girls and the Island’s unemployed

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On the other hand the majority of States Members think it a good idea to entice another 150 key workers a year, plus their families, to come and live here.

The Jersey authorities have a poor track record when it comes to providing a skilled workforce. I can remember a few years ago there was a scheme to train local teachers. At the time, it being a downturn, there was a goodly number of applicants. But by the time they finished their training the population blip had gone down and they were no longer required.

I suspect that the same is happening right now. Will there be jobs for the young hopefuls taking the new degree course at Highlands College, for example?

And although there are currently 100 students wanting to join the summer internship scheme organised by Economic Development, only 15 have as yet secured placements with employers.

The most enlightened political comment on population last week came from Senator Ben Shenton, who forecast a decrease in the number of people wanting to come here – and an exodus in the number already here – because there would be no jobs for them.

Sadly, he’s probably right. Nor is it just the finance industry which is shedding jobs, although it is currently showing the heaviest losses. Tourism, too, is still losing hotels to the luxury-flat market (witness the demise of the Hotel de Normandie, and on a smaller scale the Hotel des Pierres at Grève de Lecq and the West View Hotel in St Mary).

The sad fact is that the first to suffer in the job market are school leavers and teens and early 20s with little experience. Employers who could previously afford to take on inexperienced staff needing training, or have used younger workers to help them cope with the surges in demand, are cutting costs to the bone as customers fall away.

The estimated number of unemployed finance workers in Jersey is tipped at around 1,000 during this recession, but there are already 1,000 people listed on the unemployment register. By the end of the last recession, in the early 2000s, there were over 600 registered unemployed – and we thought that was bad.

Economists with a broader view of recessions than States politicians tell us that characteristically unemployment figures continue to be low long after a downturn has officially ended.

Some pundits I heard last week reckon that we are now at the bottom of this particular economic crisis, but that things will get worse before they get better. The recent rally in share prices will not last beyond the next few months, they predict. There is more doom to come, this time from the European banking sector.

Not all would agree with them and only this week a leading banker said there were more vacancies than people available to fill them at the top end of the employment ladder.

I can, of course, see the logic in growing a younger population to fend off the problems of supporting a growing number of elderly residents. It is a problem that the rest of the western world is grappling with.

The fact is that we are living longer than our predecessors, surviving illnesses that would have eradicated our forefathers, and families are smaller than they used to be. Couples are also delaying starting a family so that both partners can work to maintain a decent standard of living and acquire a home suitable for family life.

The fact is that the Island authorities have failed to think far enough ahead and seem to lurch from one recession crisis to the next, only turning their attention to the problems when it is already too late to do anything about them.

At the time the writing was already clearly on the wall, some 12 to 18 months ago, our politicians were still trying to tell us that everything was fine and the economy was in ‘good health for the future’.

To be fair, they have now – after many months of talking – put in place a ‘Skills Jersey’ board, which is intended to produce some joined-up thinking between Education, Economic Development and Social Services. I do believe the board is due to get some funding from the £44 million fiscal stimulus package, which has only recently been approved.

Their immediate task, they tell me, is to act quickly to give unemployed school leavers something useful to keep them occupied.

With the end of the summer term fast approaching, they will certainly need to get their skates on.

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