Editorial | The challenge of idle youth
Any programme that offers the chance to get unemployed youth off the streets and into structured activities is to be applauded. As is widely acknowledged, scores of the country's youth aged 14 to 24 are not in school, have no job and zero opportunity to change their status.
Without jobs and skills, the unattached youth are forced to seek survival in whatever way they can. It is from this pool of unattached youth that criminals recruit scammers and gang members, a situation that has huge implications for the country's economic and social outlook, as well as its lofty development goals.
Under the Government's proposed Jamaica National Service Corps, 700 of these unattached youth will get a second chance this year to be trained by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF). The idea is for them to get job training, learn life skills, and proceed to employment or even further studies.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who introduced the idea during his Budget presentation, says the programme will provide skills training for the long term, as this pool of workers will be ready for recruitment into the army, the fire services, private security firms, and like organisations.
Opposition Spokesman on Training Ronald Thwaites, who once headed the education ministry, is hailing this initiative as one that will increase the social capital, provide desirable educational outcomes, and create social peace. In making his contribution to the Sectoral Debate, Rev Thwaites suggested that compulsory military service was one way to introduce discipline, with the JDF being the most effective institution of behavioural modification in the country.
Undoubtedly, Jamaica has a discipline problem, not merely evidenced by the behaviours of its children and youth, but the adults who are parents and supposed role models. Will a 12-month dose of army life cure this malady, or is there a deeper societal cleansing that is required?
Some analysis is required to determine how we got to this point where some 20,000 children are graduating or quitting school each year without acquiring basic skills. And is it too late to turn their disillusion into hope? Clearly, even from a distance, it seems obvious that something is lacking in the educational direction for schools to be consistently turning out so many illiterates. If this is not fixed by policymakers, we will continue to add to the pile of unattached youth year after year.
Sometimes the fault lies in the homes where there are no resources to provide financial help for the child. Added to that, there is likely to be lack of emotional support, so the child is basically on his own, left to navigate the challenges of the world and to survive by whatever means.
Policymakers have been trying for decades to grapple with this problem of youth unemployment and the negative spin-offs that accompany it. Efforts to tackle this problem have seen the introduction of various programmes, often with support from international donors, but somehow the crisis has persisted and appears to be getting worse.
We think of fine institutions like the HEART Trust, which was established in 1982 with the mandate to address youth unemployment through skills training, thereby improving employment opportunities for the youth. From all indications, HEART and its associated institutions are doing a good job, but somehow the youth remain on the corner, idle and bored and often hungry. Some estimates have placed the figure of unattached youth at 150,000, an indication of the magnitude of the challenge facing the country.