Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A lost Economic Generation does not have to be our reality.

During a recent debate in parliament an Honourable member of the House spoke of the consequences of Barbados not having a viable economy. By his assessment, if our economy is not managed well, the island faces the certain prospect of having a lost economic generation. 

In January of this year similar sentiments were echoed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) at its Davos meeting. During that meeting, income disparity and social unrest were highlighted as major issues likely to impact the world economy in the coming decade.  At the centre of this economic tragedy was the world’s youthful population or what the WEF described as a “lost generation”.  According to the WEF this generation consists of several young people recently thrown on to the job market who lack both jobs and skills and are likely to cause social unrest as they vent their frustrations.   

Barbados is in no way isolated from this economic nightmare. Our young people too are facing significant challenges with diminished job prospects and with the luxury of switching jobs not available like before. Employers can reduce wages due to the high demand and oversupply of labour and with limited experience many young people are either bypassed or forced to take lower wages. 

Even for those who are able to obtain jobs there is still some difficulty. One recent study conducted in the USA noted that obtaining a job during the economic downturn can have possible psychological effects for many years. This occurs when persons aren’t working in their ideal jobs and there are limited prospects for growth, they may resign themselves to that job experience as being their fate in life and thus not grasp other opportunities which come along.

There are other impacts such as delaying marriage or the purchase of a home because the financial stability simply is not there. Those pursuing tertiary education would have been spared the encumbrance of student loans in the past. However with government’s new position on paying university fees this will mean that many will have to acquire student loans. Such a scenario may lead to a situation where there are many young persons with high debts who are also jobless causing further social and economic dislocation.  

All however is not lost for those young people facing these challenges. Experts assessing this global situation have recommended that young people remain flexible and be willing to move and try different things. These experts also encourage youth to consider delaying certain material goals until such time as they have stronger job offers. In addition continuing to upgrade one’s education with important and practical skills is also a sure way to increase one’s job prospects.

The G20 Young Entrepreneurs Summit of 2013 was held under the theme ‘Avoiding a lost Generation’. This summit of young entrepreneurs from some of the world’s most advanced economies reflected on the economic situation impacting youth. Coming out of the summit, entrepreneurship was seen as the main tool to tackle the youth unemployment situation and to increase economic growth for countries across the world. However some of the barriers cited in achieving this included a lack of entrepreneurship education, tax and regulatory systems which proved extremely prohibitive to potential entrepreneurs and inadequate investment funding.  

The G20 Youth Summit made certain recommendations which should be followed locally. These included expanding funding alternatives for young businesses as well as quality mentorship and business support services. In addition, embracing a culture where young entrepreneurs were celebrated even if their businesses failed, providing incentives and reducing red tape and excessive taxation were seen as critical to a youth-led economic recovery.

Whether or not we wish to admit it, this is a special time in which we find ourselves. Gone are the days of finding a ‘good job’ after completing one’s secondary or tertiary schooling.  Of course our young people must recognise that they have to work harder and smarter to achieve and to understand that they are competing with others from across the world when it comes to employment or even establishing their own businesses.  For this reason they must have an eye focused both on the local and international landscape and be willing to explore all opportunities.   

A lost economic generation does not have to become our reality. Both the public and private sector must play their part in helping to overcome this daunting prospect. Young people must also recognise that they are not entitled to life's luxuries. They too must play their part by agitating for change, embracing new ideals, becoming more aware of the economic and global difficulties which confront them and grasping opportunities which can lead to a more prosperous future despite the gloom surrounding us.

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