Our Readers' Opinions
February 5, 2013

Creating opportunities for youth is empowerment of communities

Tue, Feb 5, 2013

Never in the history of small developing states has there been such a distinct need to create opportunities for people and communities – opportunities that enable sustainable living and wealth creation among the poorest and most vulnerable while effecting social change.

Most households within the Caribbean can today boast of at least one youth – someone between the ages of 16 and 35 – within the prime of their lives.{{more}} It is to this segment of our populations that we would ideally wish to turn for the most innovative and transformational ideas – ideas that can reduce our economic burdens, purge us of our many social ills, while catapulting our societies into unprecedented development.

Unfortunately, unemployment levels are frustratingly high and productivity levels acutely low within this bracket – the economic and social consequences of which I assume are clear to us all.

With rising unemployment rates across the Caribbean – some approaching 15 per cent, others speculated to have already exceeded this – government policies must now be geared specifically towards avoiding job cuts within the public service, while stimulating growth within the private sector.

The Youth Affairs Department of St Vincent and the Grenadines, in collaboration with the UNFPA commissioned “Survey of Youth on the Bloc” in mid-2009. A total of 350 youths between the ages of 10 and their mid-30s were interviewed within their customary gatherings on street corners in 14 rural and nine urban areas across the multi-island state.

Results indicate that approximately 78 per cent of these youths (interviewed) possess no special skills or training. Additionally, approximately 34 per cent of those of legal working age remain unemployed. It is speculative, though not incredulous, to say that the latter figure is resultant of the former. The linkage seems more logical than not upon further examination.

A critical aspect of government policy today is the facilitation of university and technical training for young people. The Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines continues to make steady progress in this regard – particularly for youth who remain within the formal educational system. “Youths on the bloc” should, however, be identified as a distinctive group requiring special and urgent attention.

Caribbean governments are required to facilitate the process that leads to such groups becoming productive, as their contributions are essential to the advancement of our societies. It is likely that unconventional measures may be required to draw such groups to skills development and specially tailored academic programmes. Initiatives such as adult literacy programmes have yielded numerous success stories. However, figures stated here clearly suggest that there remain huge gaps yet unfilled.

Where youths remain in the formal educational system, it is incumbent on Caribbean governments to maximize all tertiary educational investments – particularly in these trying economic times. This notion goes beyond the graduate’s bonding to the state. It is about facilitating the transfer of knowledge and skills into marketable products within the local private sector, and transformative processes within the public service.

Youth in entrepreneurship is thus more than an idea – it is an economic imperative. Most of our states’ over-stretched public services can no longer absorb tertiary graduates at previous rates without compromising the system’s ability to sustain itself. However, where there are still opportunities for young graduates to enter the public service, such must be maintained to ensure that the service remains relevant and cutting edge.

Reforms are inevitable in any dynamic system, but can occasionally create or deepen inequities where vulnerable groups are not fully considered. We take, for example, an increase in the retirement age on the basis of increased life expectancy – as is being proposed for St Vincent and the Grenadines. Such a reform can further compromise the public service’s ability to absorb new tertiary graduates, and must on this basis be approached with caution.

As we move forward, it is pointless to speak about the availability or unavailability of employment opportunities without giving due regard to the creation thereof – beyond the public service. This gives rise to the subject of wealth creation – thus the establishment and identification of benchmarks of success and systems of mentorship for young entrepreneurs.

Young and aspiring entrepreneurs must be made fully aware of all opportunities available to them locally. It is imperative that they be made privy to the success stories within their respective areas of expertise and be introduced to the men and women behind such stories – thus creating much-needed benchmarks of success.

Systems of mentorship on the basis of expertise or some relevant demographic consideration must be facilitated – preferably through the region’s Chambers of Industry and Commerce. With such systems in place, young and aspiring entrepreneurs are less likely to grow disenchanted by the challenges and uncertainties of the business development process.

This place, this region I call home, yields in my consciousness a dream of a better day: A day when people and communities would be empowered to live sustainably; a day when youths would commit themselves to taking care of the elderly within their communities – grandfathers, grandmothers, elderly guardians.

I dream of a day when young successful entrepreneurs and public servants would seek to inspire potential successors within their communities – transforming unbecoming realities into symbols of progress. The coming of that day weighs heavily on the decisions we make today.

I hereby call on Caribbean Governments to urgently consider these facts and ideas – merging them where possible with the many valuable suggestions that have thus far been made towards the empowerment of people and communities through the creation of opportunities for youths. Let us not forget that every potential contribution today is critical to the advancement of our societies tomorrow.

by Jamal Browne (UNDP YTT Member SVG)