Nearly 1,200 youth from northeastern Jamaica recently graduated from the HEART Trust national programme. Photos in this newspaper showed the eager faces of young men and women basking in the glow of their achievement.
The assumption is that these newly certified youth will move from the classroom into gainful employment. But given current labour-market realities, full-blown optimism might be misplaced.
These HEART graduates join thousands of students from other institutions, recent graduates, who are also presumably looking for work. While this is great news in the area of human development, dark clouds have seemingly settled over the country's economic prospects, and not many companies are hiring.
The aspirations of these young people are putting to the test the pre-election promise of the Government to generate more jobs. Some will go on to undertake further studies, others may start their own businesses, but the majority will seek ways and means to hire out their skills.
Interestingly, among the HEART trainees, food-related services were the most popular subjects, with early childhood education, general construction, business administration and electrical installation being the other favourites.
We assume that in crafting its curriculum, HEART has tried to steer students in the direction of acquiring skills that are most marketable. For example, given the current emphasis on climate change and ecotourism, should HEART be focusing on such areas and offering incentives to get students interested?
All over the world, it is the youth who suffer most from lack of opportunities. The International Labour Organisation puts it all into perspective when it reports that about 70 million young people are actively, but unsuccessfully, seeking employment.
The latest data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) indicate that unemployment among persons aged 14-24 stood at 32.2 per cent in July 2012, compared to 28.7 per cent in July 2011. STATIN reported that as depressing as those figures seem, they were better than the previous quarter.
And the United Nations has forecast that the Caribbean will see unemployment rates trending upwards this year because of the lingering global economic crisis.
Countless commentators and policymakers have pointed to the negative impact of unemployment, particularly among the youth, on the social and economic well-being of a country. It is indisputable that major contributors to poverty and antisocial behaviour are unemployment and underemployment. Unable to eke out an existence legally, many youth are pushed to embrace illegality: lottery scam, drug trafficking and gunrunning and robbery. So how can Jamaica address the dire unemployment problems that lie before it?
There is a growing sense in Jamaica that the economic issues are just too big for our governments to handle. For example, will there ever come a time when Jamaica is able to balance its Budget without reaching out for loans from its First World patrons? Will there ever come a time when scores of people won't find it necessary to wait for handouts in the form of remittances?
Former and current ministers of finance have all come to office with noble goals in mind. But they have failed spectacularly. Hopefully, Dr Peter Phillips will be able to establish the culture of fiscal discipline within the public sector, which he so passionately speaks about.
Surely, there are new opportunities for investment in trade and export markets which have remained untapped. We hear repeatedly that Jamaica is poised to take off as governments talk about the advantages of language, geography and weather and skills.
But somehow we remain mired in poverty, with very little prospect that half of our graduates will find employment in the fields in which they have been trained.
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