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Support for Our Youth: Fact or Fiction? - September 20, 2004

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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 sector.

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.

Cuban Scholarships

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 Cuban government.

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 2004.

AGE RANGE Numbers of Persons:

16-25 274
26-35 124
36-45 73
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 Conversation.

Meanwhile, until next Monday, God Bless, and please take care!


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