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.
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?