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News - Youth Unemployment: A Regional Concern
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Labour News.

Youth Unemployment: A Regional Concern

Throughout the Caribbean and the wider developing world, youth unemployment is a major area of concern. In a study commissioned by the ILO Caribbean Office in 1996 on “The Challenge of Youth Unemployment in the Caribbean: The Role of Youth Employment Training Programmes”, it was estimated that some 404,000 persons (15% of the region’s total labour force) was unemployed in 1996, 51% of which were between the ages of 15-24 years.

In Barbados’ labour market, the youngest age groups, namely 15-19 and 20-24 years, consistently had the highest unemployment rates throughout the review period including 1999 and 2004, as illustrated above. On average, for the years 1999 and 2004, the unemployment rates for the 15-19 and 20-24 year age groups were 31.6% and 19.2% respectively and were therefore significantly higher than the total average unemployment rate of 10.1% for the same period. It is therefore apparent that youth unemployment is an issue in Barbados.

Most of this youth unemployment appears to be structural in nature as persons between the ages of 15 to 24 years are entering the labour force without the skills that are being demanded by employers. These include core skills such as communication skills, numeracy, problem solving, information technology and interpersonal skills. Employers also complain that the youth lack technical skills i.e. the more job-specific skills. Some of these technical skills can be acquired through experience and on-the-job training. However, without the core skills, a person’s learning ability and his/her trainability is limited. Employers also find it difficult to employ young job seekers because they lack the appropriate attitudes and work ethics.

These factors suggest that there are inefficiencies in Barbados’ training and educational programmes. There is a need to enhance the training programmes from narrowly focusing on traditional academic disciplines to including preparatory training for the future labour force. The curriculum should therefore reflect the demands of the labour market to ensure that all those who pass through at least secondary education should have some employable skills. This would involve developing linkages between educational/training institutions and employers where they do not exist and strengthening existing linkages.

Studies have also indicated that many young job seekers enter the labour force with exceedingly high occupational and wage aspirations. Therefore, the youth are sometimes looking for work in all the wrong places. This problem highlights imperfect labour market information where the employment opportunities that are available for youth are not being effectively communicated. This points to the need to improve counseling services within the secondary schools.

The Caribbean Employment Forum & Youth Unemployment

Barbados was privileged to host the first Tripartite Caribbean Employment Forum from 10th-12th October, 2006 at the Hilton Hotel. With representatives from Governments, workers’ associations/trade unions and employer associations from across the region, discussions focused on the central theme of the Forum, Responding to Globalization: A Decent Work Agenda for the Caribbean in the Context of Regional Integration.

A number of interesting presentations by regional experts provided food for thought as the delegations prepared a Tripartite Declaration and Plan of Action for Realizing the Decent Work Agenda in the Caribbean. Moreover, there was a focus on youth unemployment during a Special Session on Youth Employment: The Jamaica Initiative.

This session was chaired by Dr. Reynold Simons, Senior Specialist on Employment & Labour Market Policies, ILO Subregional Office for the Caribbean. It promoted the Youth Employment Network (YEN) which was created in response to the UN Secretary General’s call to integrate the youth into the world of work. It was explained that Jamaica was the first to adopt this initiative to deal with its severe youth unemployment situation and was therefore established as the lead country for the Caribbean region. The Jamaica Youth Employment Network (JYEN) was established by the Jamaica Employers’ Federation (JEF) and provided a means for harnessing the employability of the youth through entrepreneurship, training and mentoring.

The Jamaican youth unemployment initiative therefore included:

  • The establishment of a national YEN committee
  • A centre for youth development focusing on the fostering of values for self-actualization
  • A national youth service providing voluntary services to promote youth development
  • Youth opportunity fairs.

Although Jamaica’s youth unemployment initiative has not completely solved the problem, it does provide best practices for other Caribbean nations to benchmark their national initiatives.


A Youthful Perspective

As a part of the Special Session on Youth Employment: The Jamaica Initiative, Ms. Fenella Wenham, CARICOM Youth Ambassador for Dominica, was invited to speak to offer a youthful perspective on the youth unemployment issue. She highlighted that the youth unemployment situation in the Caribbean has been aggravated by illiteracy and a lack of training among the youth. Ms. Wellham also stated that the lack of micro-financing targeting the youth was also a major constraint and recommended the provision of money for such initiatives, tax free allowances, technical support and mentoring.
In conclusion, Ms. Wenham stressed that the youth desired the benefits of decent work and were willing to contribute to a stable and peaceful society.


What is Barbados Doing?

Similar to Jamaica’s initiative, Barbados is focused on facilitating youth employment through entrepreneurship and mentoring activities and also seeks to help the youth develop the skills to improve their employability. In the National Strategic Plan: 2006-2025, the Government of Barbados has outlined a number of strategies to develop the youth. These include:

  1. Strengthening the appropriate institutions to deliver greater and more efficient services for the development of the youth.
  2. Improving the use of information and communications technology in youth education programmes
  3. Undertaking more creative initiatives to attract and retain more young persons in entrepreneurship programmes.
  4. Creating strategic partnerships with the private sector and civil society to undertake mentoring, counseling and job attachment programmes for the youth.

The implementation of these strategies will further strengthen the successes currently achieved by the Youth Entrepeneurship Scheme (YES) and the Barbados Vocational Training Board (BVTB) under its skills training and apprenticeship programmes. However, it is ultimately up to the youth to capitalize on the opportunities presented to them.

Published: Monday, 15th May, 2006


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