Monthly Archives: December 2014

Youth – A Lost Economic Generation?

A Lost Economic Generation does not have to become a Caribbean reality

During a recent debate in the Barbadian Parliament, an honourable member of the House spoke of the consequences of Barbados not having a viable economy. By his assessment, if the Barbadian economy is not managed well, the island faces the certain prospect of having a lost economic generation. Earlier this year similar sentiments were echoed at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. During that meeting, income disparity and social unrest were highlighted as major issues likely to affect the world economy in the next decade.  At the centre of this economic tragedy is the world’s youthful population or what the WEF described as a “lost generation”.  According to the WEF this generation consists of several young people thrown on to the job market who lack jobs and skills and are increasingly frustrated. Similar sentiments were echoed by the United Kingdom’s Royal College of General Practitioners, who revealed that they were seeing an alarming number of 15 to 34-year olds suffering from depression, stress and anxiety due to the economic recession in the UK.

The Caribbean is not isolated

Barbados, like the rest of the Caribbean, is in no way isolated from this economic nightmare. Our young people too are facing significant challenges with diminished job prospects and constraints on the former luxuries of being able to switch jobs. Employers have the upper hand as they can reduce wages due to the high demand for jobs and oversupply of labour. With limited experience, many young people are either bypassed or forced to take lower wages.

Even for those who are able to obtain jobs, there is still some difficulty.  A  2009 study by the Economic Policy Institute entitled Economic Scarring, noted that obtaining a job during an economic downturn could have negative psychological effects for years. This is due to the fact that many persons may not be working in their ideal job, coupled with limited prospects for training and advancement. In such circumstances these persons may resign themselves to that single experience as being their fate in life and not grasp other job opportunities which come along.

The Social and Economic impact on youth 

For young people there are other impacts such as delaying marriage or the purchase of a home because the financial stability is simply is not there. In the past, those pursuing tertiary education would have been spared the encumbrance of hefty student loans. However, with Caribbean governments juggling tight budgets, meeting the costs of university fees is simply not a priority like before. This scenario will likely lead to a generation of youth with high debt, this debt coupled with limited job prospects will no doubt cause further social dislocation.

How our youth can overcome 

All, however, is not lost for Caribbean young people facing these challenges. Human resource experts assessing this global situation have recommended that young people remain flexible and be willing to move and try different things. These experts also encourage youth to consider delaying certain material goals until such time as they have stronger job offers. In addition, continuing to upgrade one’s education with important and practical skills is also a sure way to increase one’s job prospects.

Another solution to the unemployment situation is entrepreneurship. The G20 Young Entrepreneurs Summit of 2013 was held under the theme ‘Avoiding a lost Generation’. This summit of young entrepreneurs from some of the world’s most advanced economies reflected on the economic situation affecting youth. Coming out of the summit, entrepreneurship was identified as the main tool to tackle the youth unemployment situation and to increase economic growth for countries across the world. However, some of the barriers cited in achieving this include a lack of entrepreneurship education, tax and regulatory systems which prove extremely prohibitive to potential entrepreneurs and inadequate investment funding.

The G20 Youth Summit made certain recommendations which should be followed by Caribbean countries. These include expanding funding alternatives for young businesses as well as quality mentorship and business support services. In addition, embracing a culture where young entrepreneurs are celebrated, even if their businesses fail, providing incentives and reducing red tape and excessive taxation are all seen as critical to a youth-led economic recovery.

Beyond promoting entrepreneurship as a viable economic solution, both private and public sector entities across the Caribbean need to offer youth quality internship and apprenticeship opportunities. Too often youth are criticised for not having what it takes to enter the workforce. Yet they are offered few practical opportunities to boost their skills and experience. Corporations must realise that employing youth, even within internship programmes, can be a significant investment to a company’s sustainability. Such programmes also benefit the country’s social and economic stability by producing a stronger pool of workers and making it more attractive for potential foreign investors.

Whether or not we wish to admit it, this is a special time in which the Caribbean finds itself. The promise of economic prosperity and an improved standard of living have, to an extent, been realised with the Independence project. Yet, there is a very certain threat of these gains being eroded. The public, private sector and civil society organisations must therefore play their part in helping to overcome this daunting prospect.

Increased consciousness 

Of course, our young people too must also become more cognisant of the issues facing them. Gone are the days of finding a ‘good job’ after completing one’s secondary or tertiary schooling. Our youth must get a greater understanding of the difficult global environment in which they are competing for scarce jobs and even business ventures. They must have a keen eye focused both on the local and international landscape and be willing to work harder and smarter with the aim of exploiting all opportunities.

The Caribbean’s youth must find their voice, agitate for change, embrace new ideas and be the leaders of innovation and creativity in Caribbean society. Indeed, if this is done, a lost economic generation will not become our reality.

What do you think are the best strategies for

increasing youth participation in building prosperous economies? 

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Jamaica Conference: Values and Attitudes in Youth Development

The UWI Mona’s celebration of Youth Month in Jamaica included the convening of the first National Youth Conference, on the 26th November, hosted by the UWI Mona Department of Government, in partnership with the National Centre for Youth Development (NCYD) and with support from the Institute of Caribbean Studies, the Mona School of Business and Management (MSBM); the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Guardian Life.

The Organising Committee of the Jamaica National Youth Conference

The Organising Committee of the Jamaica National Youth Conference

The event was a welcome landmark in the University’s advocacy for youth development and the theme of “Preparing Youth for the Future: Promoting Values and Attitudes in Development” inspired an interesting discussion among policymakers, researchers, youth activists and secondary and tertiary students on “promoting positive values and attitudes among Jamaican youth”.

Please click here to: Download a copy of the Programme to see details of the panels and visit the website of the Centre for Leadership and Governance at the UWI Mona to learn more about the Youth in Governance and Development Programme, including the Youth Mainstreaming Strategy Development Projects in Jamaica and Belize.

50/50 Youth spent the day with participants at the conference, discussing promising and significant youth development initiatives including:

Participants in the Conference

Participants in the Conference

  • the work being done on the revision of the National Youth Policy in Jamaica;
  • Jamaican social enterprise initiatives which seek to engage youth in adopting positive values;
  • the results of a National Values and Attitudes Survey of youth bettween 14 and 26 years old;
  • the new UNFPA State of the World Population Report: “The Power of 18 Billion” 
  • and the values embraced by a group of young people who demonstrate resilience in the face of vulnerability.

On the latter issue, I served as panel chair for the session entitled: “Preparing Youth for the Future: Fostering Resilience to Overcome Odds”. In the literature on youth, resilience “involves positive adaptation under stress and the development of good outcomes despite serious threats to well-being. It refers to the capacity of youth to cope with challenges and resist risk factors. It is about supporting youth agency – the capacity of youth to resist the overwhelming influence of risk and to take responsibility for their own development – through processes that promote youth well-being and empowerment” (see UNDP. 2012. Caribbean Human Development Report, Chapter 2 ‘Reducing Youth Violence and Enhancing Youth Resilience’, pp.45-46).

The panel discussed this concept based on presentations by Dr. Anne Bailey – a visiting Fulbright Fellow in the Department of Government; and Judine Bailey, Steven Rob and Kevin Daley – students at the UWI Mona who come from vulnerable and/or volatile communities in Jamaica and are excelling in their academic careers.  All students were considered to be from disadvantaged backgrounds and were told, at various points in their childhood, that they would not or could not amount to anything. The panel began with an introduction by Dr. Bailey who spoke of increasing academic acceptance of the fact that “positive adaptation” can take place within challenging socio-economic contexts and widespread rejection of  traditionally deterministic theses of negative outcomes for those who grow up in poverty.

Then, each of the three students shared their unique life experiences of “beating the odds”. I was struck by the extent to which their stories told of common tools of resilience. The following factors played a role in building resilience against risks associated with growing up in contexts where few people could afford or had the opportunity to pursue higher education; in contexts where most parents and family members were unemployed; in contexts where communities were plagued by violence:

  • Faith in a higher power; and belief in self
  • Family/mentor support and encouragement
  • Peer support and building youth coalitions for a better life
  • Having an individual vision for a better life; and discipline to plan and implement initiatives to meet goals
  • Having a desire to excel – not just for one’s own prosperity but for the betterment of others and prosperity of community and nation

The last factor was one of the most compelling of the shared tools of resilience which emerged from the discussion. Resilience – from the technical definition above and others like it – is often considered to be an individual trait and objective. However, for Judine, Steven and Kevin and the other conference participants in the discussion, resilience was inextricably linked to the resilience of their communities and country. They were motivated to do well in order to build their capacity to help others and contribute to a more prosperous society. The discussion spoke to building coalitions among youth to change the society to enable a more resilient country and region. That’s a refreshing view on building youth resilience! So, in recognition of the agency of youth in building a resilient Jamaica, and a rejection of a reliance on others to build resilience in young people, we renamed the panel – “Youth Preparing the Future: Being Resilient in the Face of Odds”.

Minister of Youth, the Honourable Lisa Hanna with Students of Waterford High School at the Conference

Minister of Youth, the Honourable Lisa Hanna with Students of Waterford High School at the Conference

What have been your experiences of building resilience?

What are your views on the values and attitudes discourse in youth development?