Belfast Harbour aims to tackle graduate underemployment

Belfast Harbour CEO, Roy Adair, talks to BITC about one of the biggest problems facing graduates today; underemployment

As Young People is one of Belfast Harbour’s four Corporate Responsibility pillars the business takes an active interest in the issues facing young people in Northern Ireland today. Belfast Harbour CEO, Roy Adair recently spoke to BITC about one of the biggest problems young graduates face when they finish university. This is what he had to say about underemployment:

“At long last, we have positive news about the economy. Unemployment is decreasing and employment opportunities are improving, however, I’m willing to bet you know a well-qualified, talented graduate who is working their socks off holding down several part-time jobs. If so, they’re underemployed.”

Laura Morgan, one of Belfast Harbour's Responsible Business Interns.

“At long last, we have positive news about the economy. Unemployment is decreasing and employment opportunities are improving, however, I’m willing to bet you know a well-qualified, talented graduate who is working their socks off holding down several part-time jobs. If so, they’re underemployed.

Whilst we’re seeing improved employment statistics across the UK, underemployment is emerging as a growing problem, with numbers having risen by 93,000, to reach a new high of 3.4 million – over 1 million higher (46%) than it was before the recession.

Unfortunately, underemployment has been exacerbated by the economic climate of recent years. In many ways, it is a hangover of the downturn, whereby aspiring, motivated graduates have not had the luxury of graduate development schemes or a booming recruitment market. As opposed to having no employment at all, they have admirably taken on a number of jobs in an attempt to keep working and earning some income. Whilst this has kept them ‘off the books’ from an unemployment perspective, it has resulted in many young people working in jobs for which they are overqualified.

The impact of underemployment is significant. It results in unemployment challenges being passed further along the chain, and often consists of skills and expertise being unused and, at worst, forgotten. Underemployment represents a huge challenge for our economy – we are educating and training young people across a variety of areas, but then offering them fewer jobs at an appropriate level to enable them to use and develop their skills even further. 

Business in the Community has worked closely with a number of young people to understand the challenges faced by the underemployed. They’ve told us that one of their biggest fears is giving up several part-time jobs to ‘take a gamble’ on something better suited to their qualifications and expertise. I believe we, as employers, have both an opportunity and responsibility to do something to address their concerns. At Belfast Harbour, we’ve worked closely with Business in the Community to develop the Responsible Business Internship Programme. We want to give young people the confidence to make the jump by providing meaningful, paid, responsible internship opportunities. Business in the Community is working closely with employers to identify opportunities and ensure they have all the mechanisms in place to create an internship opportunity which is truly aligned to graduate skills and needs. 

So, what will your business do? Underemployment is an issue for everyone – for underemployed graduates, for businesses looking for talented people and for government which is trying to bridge the widening employability skills gaps.

I’d urge you get involved with developing responsible business internships and join forces with us to make sure this impact is felt across Northern Ireland”.