Today, August 12, Barbados joins other member states of the United Nations in commemorating International Youth Day 2020. For the last twenty years, this day has been celebrated to highlight the contribution of young people in the social and economic development of their countries.
The theme which has been chosen for this year’s celebration is “Youth Engagement for Global Action” and it seeks to recognise the various ways in which the engagement of young people at the domestic, regional and international levels has contributed, and is still contributing, to the enhancement of national and multilateral institutions.
This theme resonates well with my Government’s philosophy of building young global citizens with Barbadian roots who are multi-skilled and can excel at home and abroad.
For a long time, my Government has recognised that the people of this country represent its most important resource, but even further, it is recognised that the youth are critical to the development of this country.
Our young people comprise almost 25 per cent of our population, and they are the ones who will invariably be the main leaders and producers of goods and services over the next few decades.
It is in this regard that we need to recognise the value which they can bring to the table and in doing so, provide them with the tools and the enabling environment to apply their natural skills and talents to shape Barbados and to move Barbados into a sustainable and prosperous future.
Over the last two years, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment has sought to develop and implement programmes to facilitate the social and economic empowerment of our Barbadian young people.
We have begun the process of formulating a new National Youth Policy with the assistance of a youth-led National Youth Policy Coordinating Committee and provided support to our CARICOM Youth Ambassadors in the development of programmes aimed at mobilising the ideas and concerns of young people on matters of national relevance.
At the same time, the Ministry recognised the need to provide a social safety net for those vulnerable young persons whose self-esteem, self-confidence and values have been eroded over time. As a consequence, the Ministry strengthened its employability and skills development programmes to include psycho-social assessments and psycho-social education to enhance the well-being of these youth.
The Ministry also restructured the former Barbados Youth Service, and in September we launched the new Barbados YouthADVANCE Corps, which has been enhanced to allow for greater attention to be placed on discipline, psycho-social issues, national service, skills development and work experience.
There is also a greater focus on skills gaps and the emerging skills needs in the labour market like Coding, Robotics, Sustainable Agriculture and Maritime-related occupational areas.
We are also now completing the pilot phase of our flagship programme, the Building Blocks Project, and in the next few weeks, sixteen (16) young persons will open their small businesses in the communities of Silver Hill, Bonnetts, Parkinson and the Ivy, and with the continued support of my Ministry, be well on the way to economic enfranchisement.
The process of economic enfranchisement must continue to foster the creation of a comprehensive youth economy in which young people are provided with the opportunities to gain the skills and competencies which are required in the new economic order.
In fact, we are committed to expanding existing curricula in our institutions to reflect new occupational areas like digitization, which is an essential component of our quest to improve the delivery of public services and business facilitation.
Simultaneously, we must create a mechanism that would incentivise the private sector to create new types of jobs in new and emerging industries that can be filled largely by young Barbadians. At the same time, we must prepare our young people for the skills needed in the global labour market. It is important that we increase the job pool to absorb these new skills.
We need to address deviance among young people by reducing the level of serious crime on an annual basis over the next 3 to 5 years. Presently we have over 800 young men of which 75 per cent are under the age of 35 years in prison. We need to reduce our crime rate by 50 per cent over the next 3 years and reduce the number of youth who are incarcerated.
Much has been achieved over the last two years, and we intend to continue with fervour to implement the plans which we set for ourselves as a Government. We are committed to ensuring that young people are equipped with the tools to excel in all areas of endeavour, be it sports, culture, business, academia or public service whether at home or in a foreign country.
Indeed, our youth must be prepared to be global citizens! We are committed to ensuring that our young people are fully engaged in the development of policies which affect them directly, and which affect the country as a whole. Our Barbadian youth must be given our full support to be the best that they can be at home and abroad.
Our youth are Barbados’ future and we intend to hold fast to our commitment to create new policies that empower Barbados’ young people socially and economically, and ultimately transform Barbados into the best place in the world for young people to live, have a family, work and do business.
Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment, Dwight Sutherland