BRITAIN'S BLACK community must take more responsibility in tackling the jobs crisis it faces.
That was the conclusion of a Voice Editors' Forum held at the House of Commons last week. The forum, called 'Who's to blame for the decline in jobs for the African Caribbean community in the UK?' debated some of the key issues, including the impact of the economic downturn, long-term changes in employment patterns, and enduring institutional racism.
The discussion was led by Tottenham MP David Lammy, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on race. He said it was important to address the failure of the current generation of black Britons to carry on the legacy of early Caribbean migrants. Traits such as resilience in overcoming obstacles and entrepreneurial acumen are missing, which he described as a "major crisis of catastrophic proportions".
Lammy recently chaired an inquiry into ethnic minority female unemployment, which also examined the unemployment crisis affecting black British men and young people.
Increased competition for jobs
Compounding the problem is the increased competition for jobs with the widening of the European Union. More people from former Soviet states are now joining the fray to grab a piece of the depleting employment pie.
Concerns were also raised over the rise in the number of Polish businesses taking over the High Street and depleting opportunities for African Caribbean-owned establishments.
One solution, recommended by entrepreneur and mother-of-three, Cheryl Henry, was to encourage young people to 'be their own boss' and to look beyond the UK.
"There is no reason why we can't be trading with Africa and the Caribbean," she said.
Management consultant and chairman of Reach Society Dr Dwain Neil claimed there needed to be a strategy for growth within the community.
"We spend far too much time searching for government handouts rather than spending time ... developing enterprises," he said.
Lammy added that a business doesn't have to be a 'big idea' or require huge capital: "It could be as simple as buying a pair of clippers and ... learning to be a barber," he claimed.
Comedian Leo Muhammad expressed the view that, for any idea to bear fruit, there needed to be concerted community action. This idea was supported by Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Diane Abbott who said black people had to "stop seeing unemployment as an individual issue or a family issue, and start seeing it as a collective and community issue".
The importance of gaining qualifications
She also stressed the importance of gaining qualifications from reputable institutions.
"Too many of our young people are being palmed off on universities where, when they leave, they are in debt and unemployed," she said.
Education consultant Dr Keith Davidson suggested that young people could benefit from vocational academic qualifications that could give them an edge. "If people know you have something they need, they will come for it irrespective of your colour," he said.
Education consultant Dr June Alexis believed there was a better chance of positive outcomes through collaboration. She called for community action such as helping young black people to develop effective interview techniques and write good business plans and CVs.
Lammy added it was important for parents and community groups to mentally prepare young people for long, arduous job searches.
He said: "The stamina, the acumen, the personal strength that is required to cope with the frustration of interviews and the application process, is important."
The forum agreed that success would require leadership and a strategy that must include education, enterprise and networking on top of political support.
Dr Davidson talked about confronting discrimination in the recruitment process and in the workplace. However, Abbott also stressed that there was a need for African Caribbeans to fight for policy changes at a local level.
She urged the community to "go back to the energy, focus and strategy" that catalysed significant achievements in black employment in the 1980s.
Lammy pledged to continue to push the government towards race-specific employment initiatives.