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THE ISSUE: No easy solution

Shawn Cumberbatch

THE ISSUE: No easy solution

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Economists, financial analysts, statisticians and other experts have long concluded that increased unemployment is a common feature of recessionary times.
Even more worrisome for small countries like Barbados is the “fact” that very often the majority of these individuals out of work are “young”. Official statistics suggest that this has been the case during the economic downturn that has had Barbados crippled since 2008.
The World Bank and other institutions generally define youth unemployment as the portion of the labour force aged 15 to 24, “without work but available for and seeking employment”.
In its recently released annual statistical bulletin for 2013, the Barbados Statistical Service (BSS) revealed that of the 16 600 unemployed Barbadians last year, the majority were in their prime, that is, more than 12 000 were between ages 15 and 44, including more than 1 000 between age 15 and 19.
According to the documented information, there was an almost even distribution of this number between males and females, with females holding the slight edge.
Previous statistics showed, for example, that while the unemployment rate here in 2011 was 11.2 per cent, 9.8 per cent male and 12.6 per cent female, the youth component was 28.9 per cent. Female youth unemployment that year was 32.6 per cent as compared to 25.7 per cent for male youth.
While the BSS did not give a recent breakdown of the ages 15 to 24 category in the recent document, it is believed that the figures are similar to 2011’s since last year’s overall unemployment rate in Barbados was 11.6 per cent, the same figure as 2012’s.
But the problem is not unique to Barbados. Studies show that approximately 25 per cent of the Caribbean’s population is between the ages of 10 and 24, and that an increase in unemployment has greater consequences for youth, their families, and society.
There are also thought to be more far-reaching consequences for youth unemployment. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) concluded that “a lack of decent work, if experienced at an early age, threatens to compromise a person’s future employment prospects and frequently leads to unsuitable labour behaviour patterns that last a lifetime”.
Last year, the ILO Global Employment Trends For Youth report said two thirds of working age youth in some developing countries were either unemployed or trapped in low-quality jobs, adding that in six of the ten countries surveyed more than 60 per cent of young people “are either unemployed, working but in low quality, irregular, low wage jobs, often in the informal economy, or neither in the labour force nor in education or training”.
In Barbados’ case, a growing number of youth of opted for entrepreneurship over traditional employment, but concern remains about the number of young people who cannot find work.
One way Government is seeking to remedy the problem over the long term is through the Skills For The Future project being undertaken through a $20 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank.
This IDB programme has trained more than 6 000 youths aged 16 to 24 in 14 countries since 2005 and “combines sports, life skills and market-driven vocational training to improve young people’s employability”.
Project evaluations showed that 70 per cent of participants obtain formal jobs, continue their education, or start a business within one year of completing the training.