BYDC Press Release – Youth Employment: A global challenge in need of local solutions

Across the world there is an issue which has riveted the attention of world leaders in several esteemed institutions. This issue has also forced European leaders to consider pumping €22 billion into programmes at the recently concluded World Economic Forum and has been described as a ‘global time bomb’ by British labour leader Ed Miliband. It is an issue which has attracted the attention of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and is largely responsible for the appointment of a UN Special Envoy on Youth. It has been the main focus of the ILO’s 2010 special report on Youth and the recently released 2011 UN World Youth Report. This issue is youth employment and it is potentially socially, politically and economically destabilising if not urgently and adequately addressed.

If ever one doubted that youth employment was a major issue in the current global context, then the events of the Arab Spring should serve as an invaluable lesson. The now infamous revolution which swept across much of North Africa was sparked by the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a jobless and frustrated youth whose attempt at legitimate entrepreneurial activity was thwarted by corrupt state officials. Bouazizi’s frustrations were chorused by millions of youth across the world who registered their disapproval against growing social, political and economic inequality. Such disenfranchisement led to protests which have invaded the streets of Ireland, Greece, Spain and Italy along with the infamous Occupy Wall Street Campaign. At the heart of these protests has been deep seated frustration with systems which foster the inequitable distribution of wealth, excuse and even reward corruption in private and public financial institutions and force the poor and powerless to shoulder the burden of crippling austerity measures.

In addition to the dire findings of the ILO and UN Youth Reports the impact of youth unemployment can best be summed up in the words of noble prize economist Amartya Sen. For Sen, “unemployment is not merely a deficiency of income; it is also a source of far reaching debilitating effects on individuals’ freedom, initiative and skills. It contributes to social exclusion, losses of self-reliance, self-confidence and psychological ill-health.”

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{FILE IMAGE VIA - GlobalVision.Org} "The now infamous revolution which swept across much of North Africa was sparked by the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a jobless and frustrated youth whose attempt at legitimate entrepreneurial activity was thwarted by corrupt state officials..."

Though the issue of youth unemployment is not new, the scale and intensity of which it is impacting young people globally is unprecedented. The global youth unemployment rate saw its largest annual increase on record in the year 2009 where at its peak 75.8 million young people were unemployed with a rate of unemployment three times the adult rate. Within the local context the Barbados Youth Development Council (BYDC) has seen signs of growing frustration as an increasing number of youth have found themselves either unemployed or underemployed despite steadfast adherence to the maxim ‘go to school, study hard and you will get a good job’. The period of transition into young adulthood has therefore become increasingly difficult and many youth have found themselves significantly delaying or foregoing many of their dreams and aspirations be they marriage, acquiring a home, furthering their studies or simply lifting their families out of poverty.

To address the issue the BYDC in January 2011 with the support of the Commonwealth Youth Programme held a youth employment seminar focusing on the challenges, opportunities and strategies for the way forward. Arising from the packed meeting were key issues and recommendations put forward by our youth. Some of these recommendations included the need for greater career guidance and mentorship, the decentralisation of information as it relates to training opportunities, a call for greater research to be conducted on emerging careers, the restructuring of curricula at secondary and tertiary level institutions to reflect the changing global economy and better in-school preparation for the job market.

Additionally youth also insisted on the fostering of a national entrepreneurial culture, the establishing of more micro-finance facilities for young entrepreneurs, greater emphasis on technical and vocational education and the removal of the stigma attached to ‘non-academic subjects and careers’. The point was also made that entrepreneurship is not a panacea for issues of youth unemployment. For this reason youth made a call for quality internship programmes added to the fact that young people are often chastised for lack of work experience. Some also noted that when they sought internship opportunities (without pay) to gain necessary work experience they were often flatly ignored by many of the entities which complain of youths inexperience.

In spite of the obvious challenges the BYDC commends our young people for their resilience and urges them not to give up hope. Our young people have also been at the forefront of creating an entrepreneurial culture in Barbados. Many have started their own businesses and many more are actively exploring new areas to generate revenue particularly in the area of services.

Even though we are faced with very tough circumstances we must acknowledge that Barbados has fared better than most of its Caribbean neighbours. This can be credited to our highly recognised Social Partnership and government’s commitment to investment in education and human resources development. However we cannot relax on an increasingly frustrating issue.

This space certainly is not enough to address all of the issues surrounding youth employment. For this reason the BYDC calls for an urgent and meaningful national dialogue with key stakeholders in which the concerns of our youth are adequately ventilated, actively listened to and a firm plan of action developed with a wide cross section of genuinely committed youth spearheading the implementation process.

There is a global dossier of useful information from the many institutions addressing the issue and which we draw on. One such important document is the report of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s seminar on ‘Investing in Youth Employment’ held in London during May of 2011. The BYDC was privileged to make representation on the behalf of our Caribbean youth and will continue to do all in its capacity to find viable solutions to the issue. Our young people are critical to the sustained development and advancement of our country, therefore their pleas cannot be ignored. With elections constitutionally due in about a year’s time one can only imagine that this issue will be at the forefront of youths’ concerns and those who are best able to articulate plausible solutions to it will undoubtedly secure their support.

President of B’dos Youth Development Council

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