A creative response to youth unemployment
Theodore Williams, Guest Columnist
It is no secret that youth unemployment is skyrocketing. As a country, we have to be strategic and proactive in responding to this challenge. It is critical that a framework be developed to drive employment and wealth creation for this population.
Young people equipped with the necessary skill set, information and opportunity can significantly lessen youth unemployment and drive business development. If we can effectively harness the power of the youth, sectors such as sports, cultural industries and technology can see tremendous growth. These sectors also foster growth in other sectors.
It is without doubt that Jamaican culture is one of the main reasons why the tourism and hospitality industries continue to grow. Indeed, 'Jamaica, no problem' has emerged as a global brand.
Noted educator and senator, Ruel Reid, cited that the current profile of our workforce shows that at least 70 per cent are not trained or certified, 10 per cent have degrees or diplomas, and about 14 per cent are trained and certified in technical education. This must change for us to seriously tackle the issue of youth unemployment. This will require an approach that is youth-centred at its core.
While not everyone will become an entrepreneur, it is important that critical thinking, risk-taking and a business mindset infused in the psyche of the average Jamaican youth. These principles must also be underpinned by research to ensure effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability and youth-friendly delivery. Small and medium-size enterprises are the drivers of economic growth.
A supportive business environment for young entrepreneurs should be a policy priority for the Government of Jamaica. The introduction of new systems driven by technology will, undoubtedly, ease the process of doing business in Jamaica. After all, technology is the driving force in almost every other economy. Why not in Jamaica's?
We are now becoming aware of the financial benefits that sports can contribute to Jamaica and Jamaicans. Many of the jobs and careers associated with sports in Jamaica such as sports analysts, organisers, coaches, trainers, sports administrators, and managers a decade ago were far and few.
However, the successes of our sports personalities at the highest levels have contributed to national pride and new market opportunities. It can even be argued that this sector has far greater contribution to our gross domestic product (GDP). So, to provide a career path through sports, let's intervene early.
As early as primary school, student athletes should be guided to look at the business and academic benefits involved in sports. It is not beyond us to design and create products and services that are in alignment with our sporting excellence, but our products should be of world-class standards. Not all student athletes will transition to professional athletics or sports. However, academic success increases the likelihood that one will be better able to think creatively and innovatively, both of which are key ingredients in activating the entrepreneurial mindset.
Another area to focus on is the National Training Agency. The HEART Trust/NTA must be rebranded to attract talented young Jamaicans who have the skills and ability to develop technical and vocational products and services for local and international markets. HEART should no longer be seen as a place for second-tier students. Campaigns must be designed to coach our young people to support local businesses, and vice versa.
Employers today are more focused on what degree or diploma an employee has. The technical aspect of an employee's ability should also be celebrated and sought after. No longer should we have young people feeling like they are less valued because they decided to be trained in areas that are an important part of our labour market economy.
The creative cultural industry is another area of great potential. The Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce noted that Brand Jamaica is distinguished by the worldwide reach of our culture, mainly music. Our culture is evident in printing, publishing and multimedia, audio-visual, photographic and cinematographic productions, crafts and design, and may be extended to include architecture, visual and performing arts, sports, manufacturing of musical instruments, advertising and cultural tourism.
Yet it would seem as though foreigners are the greatest beneficiaries of our creative industry exploits. Young Jamaicans should be exposed to the processes involved in obtaining copyright licences for their creative work. It is not enough to have someone who has never operated a business in their life teaching young people business management.
At the secondary-school level, students should have the opportunity to benefit from sensitisation sessions by practising entrepreneurs. The current simulation of real-world business scenarios that is taking place in some secondary schools across Jamaica is commendable and should be supported.
The Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce also revealed that copyright industries contribute about 4.8 per cent to the GDP of Jamaica, and account for 3.0 per cent of all employment. We need to engage our young people in a meaningful discussion to increase the current numbers.
We are living in a knowledge-based economy and the service sector should be our focus. Let's consider information communication technology (ICT) to fast-track our place in the global economy. The Jamaican youths should be encouraged to think out of the box to solve workplace challenges using technological systems.
An increase in the government allotment for venture capital to young Jamaicans wanting to explore an idea, as well as technical support, should also be made readily available through experts. Schools should be provided with grants to support structured entrepreneurial learning activities. This can be achieved through public-private partnerships.
While sports, our rich culture and technology are not the only solutions, they provide steps in the right direction.
Let us decide if we are serious about reducing youth unemployment. Addressing the issue will unleash the full potential of Jamaica's youth and contribute to long-term economic growth.