In Detail

This section of the website sets out the main issues and barriers to employment experienced by people living in areas of high social and economic deprivation in South Belfast and challenges some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about unemployment generally and specifically in relation to economic inactivity/worklessness. This section also provides a view of the key actions and processes the project will engage in to maximise the potential for people to gain marketable skills, industry specific experience leading to sustainable employment.

What is doesn't do is give the reader a real insight into the engine of the project - this is about those people taking a journey, driving their own destiny with the support of a personal navigator. For this visit the Section Your Journey.

If you are interested in finding out more about the project generally and its design features from a research or policy context you can contact Stephen Atkinson, Project Manager using the form on the contact page.

The Issues

South Belfast in Focus

South Belfast has a population of 68,807 people (NISRA, 2014) residing across 11 electoral wards that extend from the Shaftesbury ward (city centre) to Upper Malone.
The Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure 2010 is a measure of deprivation nationally and provides a means of ranking areas relative to each other.
South Belfast area has a significant level of deprivation with one-fifth (18.2%) of the area's Wards falling within the most deprived 10% nationally, which is notably lower than the Belfast-wide average (41.2%). In addition, it would indicate that approximately one-tenth (9,966 residents) of South Belfast area population live in some of the most deprived areas in Northern Ireland.
Furthermore, with nearly one-fifth (18.2%) of the Wards in South Belfast area being in the most deprived 10% in Northern Ireland, when compared to the Northern Ireland rate this is almost twice the county's rate.
South Belfast is generally viewed as an affluent area with wards such as Malone, Upper Malone and Finaghy remaining above the 800th rank of multiple deprivation in Northern Ireland. However pockets of deprivation and poverty exist in this area of the city. The Inner South and South West Neighbourhood Renewal Areas encapsulate these deprivation zones. Five of the South Belfast wards are within these two neighbourhood renewal areas and are facing multiple disadvantage; Ballynafeigh, Blackstaff, Botanic, Shaftesbury and Stranmillis.

The Challenges

The target participants for this project are people of working age resident in the top 16 Super Output Areas (SOA) in Belfast South who are unemployed/underemployed and who experience complex and multi-faceted barriers to the labour market.

SOAWorking Age PopulationEconomically InactiveUnemployed
Ballynafeigh 3163424.59%7.47%
Blackstaff 1128331.85%8.22%
Blackstaff 2153233.96%8.30%
Botanic 1134634.00%3.88%
Botanic 2181635.80%3.73%
Botanic 3150830.20%3.40%
Botanic 4152830.66%6.32%
Botanic 5159439.91%8.15%
Shaftesbury 1175036.21%5.92%
Shaftesbury 2200838.97%5.33%
Shaftesbury 3149243.50%6.65%
Upper Malone 2100943.48%5.71%
Woodstock 1111928.62%8.93%
Woodstock 2148038.55%7.70%
Woodstock 3127832.46%7.17%

The ‘Brick wall’

The Brick Wall represents the blocks and the barriers that impede a person’s self-belief and confidence to address the issues preventing them from a pathway to sustainable employment.
These include:

  • Limited access to training
  • Lack of information
  • No real work experience
  • Limited understanding of the employment market
  • Lack of access to employers
  • Lack of childcare provision
  • Low self esteem
  • Little or no experience of applying for jobs
  • Lack of appropriate communication skills
  • Problems with numeracy and literacy

Workless not ‘Work Shy’

Longstanding geographical pockets of worklessness exist within relatively buoyant labour markets in Belfast. Even taking into consideration the current economic downturn and much tightened labour market with greater competition for fewer jobs, there are areas in South Belfast that are more profoundly affected by long-term unemployment, economic inactivity and worklessness characterised by higher than average numbers of people of working age who have multiple barriers to employment.

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The Place Effects

  • The location of the area
  • Poor/under-developed infrastructure
  • Lack of transport
  • Limited jobs/training opportunities
  • High competition for limited jobs/training opportunities

The People Effects

Limited tacit information about jobs as many people in the target groups may be living and socializing with a ‘peer group’ who are not attached to the labour market and will accordingly miss out on informal notification of employment opportunities; they may also experience or hold perceptions of discrimination by some employers due to where they live and their employment history.

The Barriers, Problems and Disincentives

The target group in Belfast South also experience a range of barriers, problems and disincentives which result in them being distanced from the labour market. These include:


This is strongly linked to the issues surrounding the “hidden unemployed” were the target group have been diverted from the recorded unemployed to the recorded sick due both to the previous benefits system and a demand centred problem of neighbourhoods where jobs have been lost and no sustainable alternatives have been available.

Childcare and caring for other family members

Child care particularly but not exclusively for lone parents can be problematic including the cost of childcare, lack of suitable child care locally and the shortage of jobs offering family friendly/flexible working hours.


The target group features issues and challenges relating to essential skills, key skills, job specific skills and life/social skills.

Accessibility and Transport

High numbers of the target group do not have access to a car. Many perceive that public transport links to job opportunities at sites on the edges of Belfast and beyond to be poor. There are low levels of use of existing services because of factors such as cost, lack of awareness, lack of confidence to travel outside narrow “comfort zones” and the chill factor issues.

Cultural/Motivational/Aspirational Barriers

The target group experience a number of cultural, motivational, attitudinal and aspirational barriers to employment including the traditional cultural values such as the type of work that some people are willing to undertake, and the issues around second and third generation unemployment where the adult members of the household have never been seen to be in employment, making it the norm within the family to be a workless household. Additionally, the poverty of aspiration – seeing a lack of appropriate sustainable employment, a feeling of discrimination from employers in terms of recruitment practices and a feeling of insecurity of employment compared to the relative security of the benefits system, all mitigate towards poverty of aspiration and a lack of motivation that is a feature in the target group. Lack of trust in the system and a mistrust of welfare or authority in general is another linked issue for the target group.

Informal Economy

The level of the informal economy in the target group is difficult to quantify, however our experience in working with the target group has been that there is a strong “pull factor” in relation to the informal economy i.e. casual work, topping up benefits, cash in hand cleaning jobs etc.

The foregoing outlines the current issues regarding the Belfast South Employability Project target group; it should be noted that one size does not fit all and each participant will bring their own unique issues and challenges within the range identified.

How we Can Help

Providing Customised Assistance

The identification and assessment of the severity of these barriers within three ‘bands’ low, medium and high is fundamental to gaining understanding of the issues and challenges that each person experiences in the context of their employability and provides ‘markers’ which allow mentoring support, soft skills acquisition, personal development support and vocationally-relevant skills/qualifications to be targeted to provide the best possible employability ’package’ for each individual person.

We do this by providing accessible non-threatening support at neighbourhood level throughout the target area, using our network of community outreach centres and EmployAbility South Hubs and our linkages with a multi-agency, multi stakeholder network of statutory, community, voluntary, faith based organisations and community education providers that support us to engage with the “hardest to reach, hardest to help” individuals and families representative of Belfast South Employability Project target group.

We believe that mentoring works best - specifically mentoring that is backed up by close working with the other agencies and individuals that are involved with the client in relation to issues other than the client’s capacity to gain employment and also employers. We have successfully worked to support clients into work who represent those who would be deemed the most challenging “cases”.

Our ability to work with clients who require enhanced support is founded on our knowledge of how to work within the range of systems and networks, agencies and key workers that provide the overall support package and to identify the key linkages required to provide the client with the optimum opportunity to make employment and achievable goal.

Project Framework

Identifying the employment /self-employment interests, aspirations, aptitude and potential of each participant will be a key part of the EmployAbility South project. We anticipate that some participants will have very clear ideas about the area of work that they would like to get into or indeed return to; others may have no or very limited knowledge of a preferred employment pathway or of the employment opportunities that may be open to them.

The role of the delivery team and the personal mentor will be to support each participant to explore their personal capacity for learning and work through creating the momentum that enables each participant to build their knowledge and understanding of sector specific employment pathways (including self-employment routes) generally and to develop their journey.

Each phase of the training and development programme/schedule has been designed to support each participant to develop their individual pathway and builds in ongoing review as they move towards decisions regarding their chosen sector specific employment pathway and target the sector-specific qualifications that help to prepare them for work.

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Phase 1

Programme Induction and Assessment

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Within the EmployAbility South Project determining each individual participant’s employment readiness is an ongoing process from their initial induction, assessment and the starting point or baseline for their personal action plan which will contain actions and activities linked to addressing gaps in employment readiness. Changes in each participant’s employment readiness as a result of programme interventions will be mapped as part of the ongoing review process.

This will include support with the essential skills that are needed for the workplace - as well as help and assistance with numeracy, literacy and IT skills, we have designed the programme to include industry and employer specific essential skills support to ensure a person gets dedicated essential skills support directly linked to their employment aspirations.

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Phase 2

Employability Skills Builder

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The development of employability skills are a central feature of the EmployAbility South Project and our understanding of the skills and attributes that are necessary for individuals to succeed in work are reflected in our delivery of this element of the project. We aim to allow individuals to develop the skills that make an individual employable – Employability Skills – include:

Basic Skills

Essential skills (Numeracy, literacy & ICT)

Technical skills

The skills that are specific to the job i.e. customer care, food safety etc.

Practical ‘Generic’ Skills

Such as using Information technology or being able to drive.

Softer Skills

Such as time management, planning/organising, confidence and motivation.

Skills valued by employers

Such as understanding the workplace, positive attitude to learning, problem solving, adaptability and learning from experience.

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Phase 3

Employment Interests

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“One size does not fit all” in EmployAbility South – all our participants and the employers we work with receive an individual service tailored to meet their individual needs and one which recognises that those needs can change over time. The mentoring aspect of the project will enable individuals to have open and frank conversations about the areas of work that interest them, will allow for exploration of chosen employment pathways and allow individuals to look at jobs that they would previously not have considered.

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Phase 4

Job Readiness Plan

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We define employment readiness as, “Being able, following a programme of support and guidance, to get and keep an appropriate job as well as to be able to manage transitions to new jobs as needed”
Within the Employability South Project determining each individual participant’s employment readiness is an ongoing process from their initial induction, comprehensive assessment and the starting point or baseline for their personal action plan which will contain actions and activities linked to addressing gaps in employment readiness. Changes in each participant’s employment readiness as a result of programme interventions will be mapped as part of the ongoing review process.

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Phase 5

Preparation for Work

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Before access to the employment phase of the project, participants will be required to demonstrate competence in many of the following:-

  • Applying basic communication skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and perform basic mathematical processes in work-related situations.
  • Work co-operatively with people of varied backgrounds, ages and abilities and contribute to the team work process with ideas, suggestions and tasks.
  • Make decisions and solve problems.
  • Be able to display personal qualities such as responsibility, self-management, ethical behaviour and respect for self and others Identify, organise, plan and allocate resources (e.g. time, money, materials etc.) efficiently and effectively.
  • Communicate ideas to support a position and negotiate to resolve conflicting interests.
  • Integrate employability skills into activities which will prepare them for getting, keeping, progressing and changing employment.
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Phase 6

In Employment

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To be effective in maximising the potential you to attain and maintain a meaningful job, the EmployAbility South project will provide learning and work experiences which are linked to employers’ skill requirements. Equally importantly, employers will have a direct “buy-in” to the programme itself, through partnership involvement in its design and delivery.

We will provide participants with an opportunity to access a 13 week paid placement with employers across the employment pathways available with a view to ensuring sustained employment outcomes. Your mentor will be able to discuss how this works for you and what support is available whilst in work!

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Next steps

Support & Aftercare

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All participants completing the project will be asked to complete an exit interview
As part of forward planning and aftercare support each participant will complete a destination achievement review with their Mentor and the Project Manager or with the Employer Engagement Co-ordinator and the Project Manager Each participant will be offered next steps support to meet their individual needs for example:

  • A participant not progressing to the In Work phase will be supported through referral to another support project or external programme.
  • A participant progressing to the In Work phase but not obtaining sustained employment will be supported with intensive job search and access to additional support such as job coaching.
  • A participant securing a position with the employer after completing the In Work phase will be offered access via ‘checking in’ from their mentor and telephone support if necessary for 26 weeks after they enter direct employment.
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