In recent weeks, we have begun to see many reasons for Irish people to begin to feel optimistic about our future.
I believe that the Publication of the Irish Youth Guarantee Implementation Plan is another such reason.
The Guarantee demonstrates that this Government continues to make helping young people into employment a priority.
A key element of the success of the implementation of the Guarantee will be the continued co-operation of the relevant Government Departments.
The ongoing co-operation between myself and Joan Burton, and officials from both of our Departments has allowed us to reach this point.
On the ground, the new INTREO offices and the newly established Education & Training Boards, will replicate that co-operation to ensure successful implementation of the Guarantee.
Keeping young people in education
The role of the further education and training system will be to support the Youth Guarantee, by continuing to provide relevant, high-quality training, education and work placement opportunities.
Of course, from an education system perspective, delivering opportunities for young unemployed people is only part of the story.
We are focused on giving our young people the best chance of avoiding unemployment in the first place.
We are fully committed to programmes to encourage more and more young people to stay at school longer.
The DEIS Initiative is now delivering strong results, with the range of supports such as the School Completion Programme and Home School Community Liaison, helping us towards a position where we have one of the lowest early school leaving rates in Europe.
I know that Minister Cannon will touch upon some of the supports which are available to the small numbers of young people who do leave school early.
The unemployment challenge requires new and innovative solutions.
Minister Burton has been creative in developing tailored solutions for unemployed people, and she has done so well in advance of our Youth Guarantee commitments.
The same is true of education and training.
Targeted skills initiatives such as Springboard, the ICT Skills Conversion Programme and Momentum, have focused on areas where there are job opportunities, and have prepared people for the workplace.
Momentum supports the provision of free education and training projects to allow 6,500 long term jobseekers to gain skills, and to access work opportunities in identified growing sectors.
Early indications are that 25 – 30% of those who complete the programme will immediately get full-time jobs, arising from their participation in Momentum training.
Others who complete the Momentum programme will progress in education and into part time jobs.
In Momentum in 2014, a minimum of 2,000 additional training places will be ring-fenced for young people as part of the Youth Guarantee.
Very large numbers of our young people are progressing directly from school into mainstream higher education.
This is a respected and valued educational pathway.
However, I want to ensure that the same respect and value is accorded to other models of education and training.
Under the Action Plan for Jobs initiative, a review of the Irish Apprenticeship system was completed in 2013.
This review examined whether the current model of apprenticeship should be retained, adapted or replaced - taking into account the needs of learners, employers, the economy, and the need for cost effectiveness into the future.
Following consultation with stakeholders, the independent review group, which was chaired by Kevin Duffy, made recommendations in relation to the expansion of apprenticeship into new industrial sectors, as well as in relation to the existing apprenticeship trades.
The report of the Review Group was published this day last week.
The Group recommended that we engage with stakeholders on how best to implement its recommendations.
My Department is now beginning that process to develop implementation arrangements by the middle of the year.
Tackling youth unemployment is something that requires long term, sustained commitment.
The youth guarantee is a new way of shaping how we deliver on that commitment.
More than that, it is proof of this Government’s commitment to our young people.