Youth, Employment and Skills within the National Development Agenda

 

It gives me great pleasure to address you this morning on a topic of great importance to our country – “Youth, Employment and Skills within the National Development Agenda”.

Reducing unemployment throughout The Bahamas, especially among our youth, is essential to achieving a Stronger Bahamas, which is something we all want no matter our politics or circumstances. Our work here today must therefore aim to address the factors and identify the policies and initiatives that impact the future of young persons as they transition from school into the economy, and as they transition from adolescence into full maturity as productive members of Bahamian society.

We know that the Great Recession affected our country greatly. The Bahamas, with an economy largely based on tourism from the United States, bore the full brunt of this storm. In one year, from 2009 to 2010, unemployment rose from 8.7% to 14%, and by May 2014 the unemployment rate reached 14.3% or 28,000 persons.

Happily, however, through prudent economic and fiscal decisions, aggressive investment management policies and supportive social policies, we are seeing a recovery. We have reduced the fiscal deficit by almost two thirds and have started reducing our debt to GDP ratio as well.

We are also seeing progress in some of our major job training programmes including the Fresh Start Programme, BAMSI, and other initiatives that seek to better prepare young Bahamians for the workforce.

Our recovery has been modest, but positive over recent years and we are on track to achieve a more prosperous and Stronger Bahamas in the years to come.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels. Recent OECD statistics suggest that during the global recession, youth unemployment rose to over 19% in Belgium. In France, youth unemployment was 23%. In Ireland it was 33%. In our own region, youth unemployment has been particularly high.

Youth in The Bahamas between the ages of 15 to 24, represent 18% of the labour force, 15% of the employed workforce, but 33% of the unemployed labour force in 2013.

Beyond those statistics, there are real people with real stories of the difficult circumstances they and some 11,000 other youth are having to endure as a result of unemployment. These youth have become a central plank of my work as we move ahead with the development of a comprehensive National Development Plan to guide our country over the next 25 years. This important plan will provide the roadmap to a Stronger Bahamas for our future. This workshop today is evidence of the serious commitment I have, and the Government has to ensuring that our youth are provided with training and employment opportunities that will better position them for success.

I am sure that for any Leader, ensuring the successful future of our young people is the single most important task of all.

Young people between the ages of 15 to 24 make up about 16% of the Bahamian population. These youth are at a critical stage of their development – , a time when their character is being cemented; a time when their strengths are being developed and when their life goals are taking definite shape. It should also be an exciting time for them, full of hope and possibilities, a time for dreaming about how they can be engaged in building a Stronger Bahamas.

The successful cases of youth in The Bahamas should not be understated. Instead they should be celebrated. These so-called “Millennials” are independent, spirited, naturally curious and entrepreneurial. They question authority and the old ways of doing things. They push us to be better. They are an important resource for a growing country like The Bahamas. They are our future leaders. Through family and government support many are able to pursue higher education and train for trades and go on to make valuable contributions to our country. Some have started and expanded successful businesses.

We also know that many of our youth fall by the wayside, with a lack of formal or informal education and training, unable to secure employment.

Indeed, we all understand the serious ramifications of this for a country such as ours. In The Bahamas we have seen the effects of youth who have become disengaged from society and chosen the wrong path towards crime and other social pathologies, including unprepared pregnancies, drug use and other illicit activities. Too many have been left defenseless without a sound education, and without adequate preparation for the job market.

To address this problem, the government introduced a series of initiatives to support young persons including the National Training Agency and BAMSI which provides young Bahamians with opportunities outside of the traditional tourism sector. The government continues to support programmes such as Youth in Parliament and Youth Ambassadors, Urban Renewal and Youth Bands. To ensure economic empowerment, the Government has supported programmes such as Fresh Start, Self Start, and Junior Achievement, and has sought to strengthen other youth organizations. The government has also maintained its support for the national educational system. Education continues to account for the lion’s share of the national budget both directly through our public schools and through subventions to private schools. The College of The Bahamas, soon to be the University of The Bahamas, is one of the brightest beacons of support for the youth. We also continue to support BTVI in providing technical training to youth. We must continue to make tertiary education affordable and accessible to all Bahamians.

The focus on young people is obviously not confined to The Bahamas. In July 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/288. This historic resolution entitled “The Future We Want” contains, in clause 24, the essence of what we are here to address today- the issue of improving the employment resilience of our young people. In this same resolution, the world assembly voiced its “deep concern about the continuing high levels of unemployment and underemployment, particularly among young people, and noted the need for sustainable development strategies to proactively address youth employment at all levels.”The resolution goes on to call for“a global strategy on youth and employment”.

The Bahamas must be part of this global strategy. To do this we must develop our own national strategy to empower youth with skills for full engagement in their society. Youth are key to building a Stronger Bahamas.

And so we know that we must focus on skills for employment and entrepreneurship. Our basic education, like our neighbours in the Caribbean, must be thought about in a different way. As I review the annual statistics which demonstrate the poor educational attainment of many young people, I ask my colleagues, “what can we be doing differently?” We must not be afraid to think “outside of the box”. Many of our students are leaving school without the necessary skills or the right skills to gain employment in areas where employment is available.

I therefore challenge this gathering to propose viable and relevant innovations that will lead to a more prepared workforce. Already through the great work of the Ministry of Education a new system has been put in place that will hold all students to a national standard of graduation, so that young people cannot simply pass through the system without gaining the required basic skills needed to survive in a modern society. The Ministry has also implemented academic and skills testing in schools to help identify students who may learn differently from others. This will enable us to use internationally recognized methodologies to determine what it will take for each individual child to succeed in school. Training will then be provided to teachers and parents alike so as to ensure that no child is left behind.

While we are making progress, many of our youth are unprepared for the working world in terms of attitudes to work. Work ethic is a virtue in the modern world, and we need new and innovative strategies to ensure that young persons are engaged, enthusiastic, and strive for excellence in the work they do. I challenge this group to propose ways to encourage this behaviour and mindset.

How do we empower young people to find jobs that match their skills and interests? How do we strengthen our employment services: both public and private? How do we allow young people to explore employment opportunities through meaningful internships and apprenticeships while engaging in formal education? How do we prevent young people from becoming disengaged from society and the labour force?

These are vital questions for you to consider during the course of today’s workshop and as we prepare our National Development Plan for a stronger future.

We are fortunate in that we are a small country. Our challenges are more easily met through collaboration and sustained effort. We know that we can solve this and build a Stronger Bahamas.

There are at least 11,000 young people in our country that need our help today. I am committed to each and every one of them. My Government is committed to each and every one of them. They are the future of our country. We cannot fail them.

I wish you a productive workshop over the next two days and look forward to receiving your ideas and feedback in the days and weeks ahead .

 Nassau, New Providence – Presentation by the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas at the Opening Session of the “Transformation: Skills for Work – Closing the Skills Gap and Promoting Employment Opportunities for Youth in The Bahamas”, British Colonial Hilton Hotel, 16th June, 2015

 

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