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Catering For Our Youth - June 14, 2004

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Catering For Our Youth

Good Morning St. Lucia,

Sometimes, I wonder whether it is tougher being a young person today than it was yesterday in my time. Back then, jobs were scarce and secondary education was for the chosen few. Many left St. Lucia to seek opportunities elsewhere. Today, jobs are still scarce, but opportunities have widened in education. Unfortunately, crime among our young people is far more obvious than it was yesterday. In my time, we knew about drugs but did not experience the hurt and damage that it causes today.

Frankly, I have not made up my mind about the question that I posed earlier. What I do know is that these times are far more exciting, purposeful and challenging for our young people.

But I also know that our young people are worried about the future. And so, today I want to chat about the opportunities that are available and will become available in the next few months. These opportunities will hopefully make the future a little more secure.

Our young people have heard this a thousand times before, but it cannot be overstated that the single most important ingredient to help them succeed and fulfill their dreams is a solid education.

At the tender age of 28, I was invited to be St. Lucia’s Minister of Education in the 1979 SLP administration. I was too young to be appointed and had to wait till I was 30 years old or the Constitution was amended to reduce the age of being a Senator from 30 years to 21. I saw myself as having the great responsibility of sharpening the most marketable tool that any society can offer – the human mind.

Today, as Prime Minister – much older and wiser – I am even firmer in my resolve to expand opportunities in education.

Now, I know that lack of funding for tertiary and university education continues to be a stumbling block to many young persons. This is why, in this year’s Budget, the government has established the Human Resource Development Credit Facility. This financial assistance programme comprises part loan from a financial institution and part grant from this government. Details of the programme are being finalised, hopefully in time for the new academic year starting in September 2004.

Developing Youth Potential

One of the main instruments for developing the potential of our youth and setting them on the road to employment has been the creation of the National Skills Development Centre (NSDC), which was launched in 2000. This is not being acknowledged sufficiently, but to date the NSDC has achieved, in great measure, training in new skills and various forms of employment for hundreds of persons each year across the country. Working with partner institutions like BELFUND, the Poverty Reduction Fund, the Basic Needs Trust Fund, the National Enrichment and Learning Programme and the Ministry of Social transformation between 2001 and 2004, the NSDC has successfully trained over 1,500 young persons in 50 different technical and vocational skills.

The NSDC has also been able over the past three years to work with over 100 private sector companies to create employment opportunities for the newly skilled youth. Some 40% to 45% of those trained by the NSDC have been able to gain fulltime employment after their attachments at the various workplaces. Others have been able to engage in self-employment, starting their own businesses in areas such as cosmetology, retailing, culinary skills and Information Technology. And there are still others who now have a new skill that they are seeking to market.

That is by no means all that the NSDC has done or is doing, but we will get back to that later.

Tackling Unemployment

I know and accept that unemployment is highest among our young people. Unemployment will continue to reduce as the economy expands. But this is not happening as fast as I would like. So, the government has decided to extend a further helping hand by establishing the Youth Apprenticeship Programme (YAP). This programme is aimed at unemployed young persons interested in acquiring the skills and work experience necessary to increase their value to their potential employers. It will be designed to stimulate youth participation in the economy and it will attempt to provide on-the-job training experience for some 2,500 young persons over a period of three years. Hopefully, the economy would have expanded sufficiently to absorb these persons who have been trained.

This is how it will work. Through the YAP, trainees, while training with the NSDC, will participate in a series of Productivity Enhancement Workshops. Upon completion, they will be attached to a company or other enterprise, where they will receive from government a monthly stipend of $800 during the attachment period, with the private sector business or company required to provide up to half of that amount.

In this programme, the NSDC will seek to partner with umbrella agencies such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel & Tourism Association, the Small Business Association and others to identify training areas and strategies which will better facilitate transition of unemployed persons into various sectors.

For this year 2004, the NSDC aims to assist over 500 young people to get on-the-job skills training through the Youth Apprenticeship Programme. That number will increase to 1,000 in 2005 and a further 1,000 in 2006.

The Youth Enterprise Development Fund

The Youth Enterprise Development Fund is yet another programme unveiled in my last Budget address. This fund is designed to make loans available to young people who wish to establish their own businesses. With help from the Commonwealth Youth Programme, we propose to use the BELFUND to manage this programme. It is planned that the Youth Enterprise Development Fund will provide more opportunities for disadvantaged youth; make more young people into economic leaders in their communities; and ensure greater access to knowledge-based skills in information and Technology. This programme will also ensure a stronger partnership between the government, the private sector and the NGOs and it will also help further strengthen support structures for youth development.

Encouragement of Partnerships in Youth Development

Dear St. Lucia,

It is our sincere hope that our continuing endeavours towards improving the situation facing our youth will get the necessary support from the private sector. As the main beneficiaries of the skills in which our young people are being trained, the private companies and businesses are being encouraged by the government to play a greater role in creating employment and training opportunities for our young people. As I indicated earlier, the government will be meeting half the cost of training under the YAP. To further support this initiative, the government proposes to amend the Income Tax Act to provide a tax credit to employers who permanently retain apprentices who have completed apprenticeships with their firms. This tax credit will be for a period of three years, provided the trainees remain in the employment of the company. As further encouragement to the private sector, we also propose to amend the Income Tax Act to allow for a tax rebate for companies that make contributions to youth and sporting clubs. This will be in the form of an allowance equal to 150% of the actual expenditure incurred in the contribution to recognized clubs for the promotion or sponsorship of sporting activities, events or sportsmen.

The Great Challenge

In 2007, the greatest event which we may ever host comes to the Caribbean – I speak of World Cup Cricket. St. Lucia will play a great role in this event. This country needs our young people to be part of this history. Their skills, energy, knowledge, creativity and enthusiasm are what will make world Cup 2007 an economic success. And I can assure our young people that they will see the benefits to them personally and to the country as a whole – not only for now but for many years to come.

We often speak of having two Nobel laureates. And every young St. Lucian has the right to be proud of that. But the achievement of Derek Walcott and Sir Arthur Lewis is not enough as a symbol of national pride. Let us also use it to inspire us to achieve greater things for ourselves, our family, our country.

I am optimistic that together we will achieve greater things,

Thank you and have a great day!


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