The Long Road To Economic Transformation And Unemployed Youth
Young people play a significant role in the economic growth and transformation of any society, yet a major issue across the globe is the problem of unemployment among youths. In Spain for example, breaking headlines within the last year in El Pais (a major Spanish newspaper) alludes to this theme with increasing economic public debt making the situation even graver. Juvenitud sin futuro, sin casa, sin curro, sin pension, sin miedo translated means youth without a future, without a home, without work, without a pension and without fear –this is just one of the signs displayed by young professionals in Spain by protestors hitting the streets against lack of employment opportunities in their country. The reality is that in Spain the young are skilled and qualified tertiary level graduates but cannot find jobs. Is the scenario different to Trinidad and Tobago?
It may be true to say that in Spain there are differences in language, culture, historical background and socio-political system to T&T. Our youth may not be out protesting but behind the innate enthusiasm for a good lime there is growing concern and frustration among the young professionals residing in T&T. Perhaps here the discussion may not entirely surround youth unemployment. Part of the situation also lies with the difficulty in finding a job to match their skills while simultaneously being adequately compensated financially.
Historically in Trinidad, since the1960’s and with the election of our first Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, education has been high on the national agenda. Fast forward to 2012 and we have largely achieved our objective of providing free education up to tertiary level to the masses. However the question still remains: Are there jobs enough for this generation of young professionals as they throw their mortar boards in the air and step out of the stifling classrooms into the real world?
It is a myth to believe that our society can progress without real contributions by the host of young people continuously flooding the corporate world. Youth unemployment can impose large economic costs on society. The necessity to address the needs of long-term unemployed youth can become a significant burden on public budgets and lead to social and economic unrest. Will this be the future of T&T – one which is being experienced in Spain at present?
After interviewing several professionals on the topic, their identities will not be disclosed but the points made are worthwhile and provide a better overview of where the problem stems.
According to one interviewee, who referred to a report done by CARICOM entitled ‘Eye on the future investing in youth now for tomorrow’s Community’, while a large percentage of young professionals are making a smooth transition from school to the work environment, they are not optimizing their full potential. Young people have forgotten how to dream and our society does not create an environment where young persons can be allowed to think out of the box. The main purpose of youth is to challenge status quo yet the basis of the educational system teaches us to fit into a particular mold. Change and transformation only comes when the status quo is challenged.
The interviewee also indicated the importance of getting young persons involved in core areas. The educational system focuses mainly on academic skills failing to promote technical and vocational skills. These, also known as hard skills, are just as important as soft skills such as good etiquette, emotional intelligence and coping mechanisms to deal with conflict or life’s challenges. Young persons may be qualified but are seemingly still ill-equipped to handle real life situations.
Another interviewee cited that the main reason for youth unemployment is market saturation. Too many people are becoming qualified in the same field because of the prestige associated with certain professions and after becoming qualified are unable to adapt their skills to the job market. Apart from this youths live in the era of immediate gratification or entitlement, believing ‘I have studied and therefore I deserve a job in my field paying “x” salary’ – expectations which may now be unrealistic as a result of our changing socio-economic conditions.
Exactly what is the cause of these unrealistic expectations? One of the interviewees responded that we live in a copycat society and desire to imitate the life styles of celebrities in the media. Young persons have few good role models or leaders to emulate. This is a problem which stems from the 1980’s during one of the most difficult periods in Trinidad and Tobago’s history when the term “barrel children” was first coined. It was this period of economic depression that accelerated the complete shift from “a cooperative society to a capitalist society” creating repercussions on family life and values which we will reap for many generations to come.
Yet another interviewee indicated that nepotism and corrupt leadership is at the heart of youth unemployment. How often have we heard this one – “it’s not about who is the best person for the job it’s all about who knows who”.
All however indicated that T&T needed to develop an entrepreneurial spirit among youth and change the scenario of a society dependent on imports to a society with a healthy balance of trade focused on increasing exports.
What are some of the solutions to these problems? How do we secure our future socially and economically so that the young professional is deterred from moving onto greener pastures?
Some of the responses from the interviewees states-
- Proper research and analysis need to be conducted in order to create a synergy between education and new job opportunities
- Preparing young persons with non-traditional skills will provide overall society with the cutting edge needed to meet economic and social demands.
- Creating platforms for young people to interact with people from different cultures so that there is greater appreciation of what they have;
- Training in lifelong learning concepts, for instance, young persons may gain considerably from learning a trade even though being certified or having a first degree in an unrelated area;
- Creating an environment where the young professional can develop leadership skills and express ideas may help to rectify the problem and better equip youth with the tools to meet the demands of the world.
In conclusion, we need to acknowledge that our greatest natural resource is our people. In Japan and Canada, two countries which also place great emphasis on education, the involvement of young professionals on every level of society has resulted in a productive and efficient workforce which has generated a stronger and more competitive economy on global markets. If we fail to get this one thing right, apart from the brain drain we will feel the impacts of not maximizing the potential of youth, one of which will be a dwindling middle class population and a wider gap between rich and poor which can easily tip the scales of our economy. It goes to show that our economic transformation is heavily dependent on youth employment and job stability, thereby providing young people with the chance to progress economically.