Support for Our Youth: Fact or Fiction?
Good Day St. Lucia, another Monday has arrived.
Every now and then, we hear suggestions from young persons or representatives of
youth groups that this Government has done either nothing or very little for the
youth of St. Lucia. These statements are often made with impunity, even though
the evidence says otherwise. When these statements go unchallenged, they
resonate, and for some they become fact.
We live in interesting times. We have become afraid to give credit where it is
due for fear that we are described as “apologists”. Some are busy dictating what
we must think, hear and say. Our very freedom to reason is under threat. But let
us leave those issues for the time being and focus on our theme today – Support
for Our Youth: Fact or Fiction?
Unquestionably, the most pernicious and persistent problem affecting our young
people is unemployment. Indeed, St. Lucia has one of the highest rates of
unemployment among young people in the Eastern Caribbean. So it is a real
problem and we cannot pretend otherwise. The search for investment must
continue, as it is new investments that will create new jobs and opportunities.
But let us focus on some of the initiatives of this government in the past few
years, targeted at our young people.
Forget for a moment that it was this government that passed legislation to
recognize the National Youth Council (NYC), gave it an annual subvention and
offered its members opportunities to serve on decision-making bodies.
Progress On Youth Apprenticeship Programme
Let me start off by reporting to you on the progress we have made to introduce
YAP, the Youth Apprenticeship Programme. You will recall that this programme is
aimed at young, unemployed persons interested in acquiring the skills and work
experience necessary to increase their value to their potential employers. It is
designed to stimulate youth participation in the economy and provide on-the-job
training experience. Some 2,500 young persons will benefit over the next three
years. Hopefully, the economy would have expanded sufficiently by then to absorb
those young people who have been trained under this programme.
Through this programme, the apprentices will participate in a series of
Productivity Enhancement Workshops. Upon completion, they will receive a monthly
stipend of $800 during the attachment period. The Government will meet 50% of
the stipend and the private sector business or company will meet the other half.
For this year, the NSDC aims to assist over 500 young people to get on-the-job
training through the YAP and that number will increase to 1,000 in 2005 and by a
further 1,000 in 2006.
Advertisements have already been published inviting applicants for positions as
Job Placement Officers. The NSDC and the Chamber of Commerce are conducting a
training needs assessment of the Private Sector and responses have already been
received from over 100 local firms. The Chamber and the NSDC are also
collaborating on the methods for the screening of applicants, which should begin
by the end of September. And, very importantly, based on the fact that St. Lucia
will be a host venue for Cricket World Cup 2007, two-thirds of the students
under the Youth Apprenticeship Programme will be trained in the hospitality
If all goes according to plan, YAP will be launched on September 30, 2004.
Youth Enterprise Development Fund
Another recent initiative taken by this Government specifically geared at
assisting the youth is the Youth Enterprise Development Fund, which was
announced in my Budget Address earlier this year. Just over a month ago, the
Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth came here to sign the necessary
agreements to establish the fund and to make the first allocation of $100,000.
This fund, as I have said in an earlier “Conversation” with you, is geared to
provide young people with the seed money to assist them to become self-employed.
Government will, in time, increase the funds for this programme.
Human Resource Development Credit Facility
Just last week I welcomed the fact that over 100 students had already made use
of the Government’s Human Resource Development Credit Facility announced in this
year’s budget. As you know by now, this facility was established with the
specific intent of making credit available for persons wishing to pursue
educational studies abroad. For this purpose, Government, through the office of
the National Authorising Officer, allocated one million dollars ($1,000,000) to
two leading local financial institutions for onward lending to persons wishing
to make use of the facility. Among those already using it are students and
teachers, most of whom are young St. Lucians preparing for the future by
pursuing studies and enhancing their skills at educational institutions abroad.
Earlier too, and in a previous Conversation, you will recall that I indicated
that there are over 240 St. Lucians who are beneficiaries of scholarships by the
Study Leave With Pay
Still in the realm of educational opportunities abroad, I also welcomed the news
last week that Government granted study leave with pay to 46 Public Officers,
taking the total number of Public Officers on Study Leave With Pay to 126, all
at the expense of taxpayers. Here again, a great number of these persons are
young St. Lucians preparing for the future.
Then, of course, there’s the NSDC itself, which this administration established
in 2000 and which has since been training youth in new skills. On August 30,
2004, the NSDC hosted yet another graduation exercise for 501 persons. Between
March 2001 and August 30, 2004 the NSDC has trained a total of 1,474 persons.
Presently, 500 persons are being counselled for training commencing October
2004. Of the graduands, 468 persons have completed job attachments to date and
19 have started their own businesses. Preliminary indications are that
approximately 30% to 40% of persons completing training gained employment after
graduation. Interestingly, of the 197 persons recently completing Job
Attachments, 53 have already received fulltime employment and three have started
their own businesses. If you have any doubts that young people are the primary
beneficiaries, look at the age ranges of those persons who graduated in August
AGE RANGE Numbers of Persons:
46 and Over 28
The NSCD has truly done a great job. The General Manager, Mr Noorani Azeez and
his staff deserve our commendation. “Nuff respect to you and your staff, Sah!”
Modern Sporting Facilities
Now we come to the modernization of our sporting facilities. For years, the
youth have been crying out for improvement and modernization of sporting
facilities. This Government has been paying attention to improvement of existing
facilities at the community level. But at the national level, we have provided
two major modern facilities that stand majestically in the north and south of
the island, namely the National Stadium in Vieux Fort and the Beausejour Cricket
Ground at Gros Islet. Millions of dollars have been spent on creating these
facilities, which now provide access for our young people to improve their
sporting talents in such areas as football, cricket and athletics.
To these must be added the modern pavilion in Vieux Fort. Next year,
construction will commence on a new pavilion at Soufriere.
Making A Difference…
In all of this, I want to ask a simple question: Were all these initiatives and
programmes in existence prior to this government taking office? What was there
before? Surely, you know the answers.
I know and understand what it means to have young people leaving school every
year and being unable to land a job. No previous government has been able to
create jobs as fast as young people become employable. But this government,
cognizant of that fact, has been putting policies and mechanisms in place to
absorb as many of the unemployed as possible. As new investments materialise in
the Information Technology Sector and the Tourism Sector in the next few months,
I expect our unemployment figures to decline.
Next week, I will tackle an e-mail from someone who describes himself or herself
as “Your Youth”. In essence, this writer argues that the government is not
really encouraging young people to build homes. The writer says that the
“Environmental Levy” is oppressive. I like that e-mail, as it provides a good
opportunity to address fact and fiction. Tune in for that particular
Meanwhile, until next Monday, God Bless, and please take care!