GLEANER: Recently, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Clifford Blake spoke about the fact that the police and the courts are unable to keep up with the number of at-risk youth in some communities.
"When we look at what is happening in the schools, were it a production line and we were producing criminals at the pace that they are being produced, and they are basically being thrown into the society, the supply would far outpace the demand that we have for them," he said.
Data coming out of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) support Blake's remarks.
Currently, there are approximately 148 million youth, ages 15 to 29, in Latin America and the Caribbean, who make up 40 per cent of the working population.
However, one in five youth does not work or study; one in three is at risk; the youth unemployment rate is as much as three times higher than the adult rate in some countries; and six in 10 jobs held by youth are informal.
At the same time, half the companies in the region are struggling to find qualified workers, especially for technical and trade jobs, because candidates lack the necessary life skills or abilities for that enable them to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.
In Jamaica, the situation is similar, according to statistics the youth unemployment rate stands at 29.6 per cent, which is almost double the national unemployment rate of 12.9 per cent.
And according to local employers, young people do not have the necessary life skills to get and keep a job.
In response to this issue, the IDB, through its Multilateral Investment Fund, created the New Employment Opportunities (NEO) for Youth Project. NEO seeks to improve the lives of one million youth throughout 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil by 2022.
NEO seeks to close the gap between the skills of young people and the demand among companies for qualified personnel by coordinating and linking the efforts of the main stakeholders in the fields of education and training, the labour market, and the youth.
It is NEO's mandate to be able to address these problems in a systemic manner and not simply through isolated and ad hoc efforts and scaling up effective models of vocational guidance, training, and job-placement services in an effort to increase the quality and relevance of job placement services and job opportunities for poor and vulnerable youth.
Each participating country, however, has its own mandate, and specifically, NEO Jamaica will seek to increase job opportunities for 10,000 poor, vulnerable, and low-income Jamaican young people ages 17 to 29, with 50 per cent of that cohort being women. The expected results are to broaden the quality and relevance of training programmes and employment systems for vulnerable young people in the country.
Ninety professionals at 11 training and employment centres across the island, the majority of which are operated by the HEART Trust/NTA and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, will be trained according to the NEO Quality Standards Guide.
These professionals will also be exposed to more effective teaching methods and more effective career guidance, counselling, and job search assistance measures to help promote closer links between the education system and the labour market.
A key aspect of NEO is the Passport to Success life skills training programme, which will be provided by the International Youth Foundation to the selected professionals across the 11 training centres. Passport to Success will help to equip our professionals with the tools to properly impart the necessary life skills to the young people and is one of the best ways to help bridge the gap that exists between the skills of the young people and the skills employers are looking for.
These skills include:
- Personal competencies (managing strong emotions, setting goals, managing stress, etc)
- Solving problems and managing conflict
- How to effectively work in teams
- Respecting diversity and authority
- Leadership, decision making and negotiation skills
- Effective presentation skills
- Time management
The NEO Jamaica Project ends in 2019, but in the long term, we anticipate stronger emphasis on soft-skills training and job-placement services; increased knowledge among youth of the importance of soft skills; and greater willingness on the part of the private sector to employ poor and vulnerable youth.
If we are able to assist our school system in turning out young people who can finally meet employers' needs while at the same time enhancing our overall youth workforce, we would have effectively done our part in advancing the growth and development of our beloved country in a meaningful way.