(Jamaican Gleaner) – As Jamaicans prepare to go to the polls on September 3, youth advocate Christina Williams has warned that young people do not need handouts.
More pressing, said Williams, is the need for affordable access to Wi-Fi and digital technology that would enable youth to create their own employment and pursue academic studies.
Williams, a former president of the Guild Council at The University of the West Indies, Mona, said that youth unemployment remains a matter of concern, especially because of the financial fallout, including job losses, caused by the new coronavirus.
She is lobbying for the promotion of a sustainable model to facilitate self-support.
“Because we have always been such a vulnerable group, whenever we have issues of pandemic, or just any kind of crisis that affects the economy, young people have always been one of the main groups that would become a lamb to the slaughter,” said Williams of the Jamaica Union of Tertiary Students.
“What I haven’t seen yet is a plan by the PNP (People’s National Party) or the JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) to say, ‘How will we support young people in recovering from COVID-19?’, and it can’t be a case to say, ‘Oh, we are going to give them a handout of $10,000 for those who are going to university, or some handout. It needs to be a sustainable environment that would allow us to support ourselves going forward,” Williams said.
Jamaica’s unemployment rate fell earlier this year to 7.3 per cent, with joblessness for youth aged 14 to 24 falling to 19 per cent.
During an International Labour Organization (ILO) virtual discussion on youth unemployment challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean in the COVID-19 era, the pandemic was highlighted as presenting both crises and opportunities for young people. Digital skills are one field that is increasingly in demand.
“This is a pandemic that is not only destroying employment, but it can destroy dreams, education, training, the human force, the ability, the willingness to look for a job. And we know that if we lose the young people in this moment, when they are finishing their training, it would be very difficult to reinsert them after that,” said Vinicius Pinheiro, deputy director of the ILO.
Stakeholders from across the region contended that the digital economy can accelerate youth job transitions.
That is why Williams believes that Jamaica’s technology infrastructure — the source of years-long lament over dropped calls and spotty Internet connectivity — must be overhauled to give youngsters a leg up.
“We need to ensure that within this environment, the Wi-Fi is stable. It seems very simple, but the Wi-Fi [should be] stable so that if someone wants to do an online job, whether it be through their own entrepreneurial venture or through employment, that they are able to do so,” she asserted.
Williams also wants tax breaks on the importation of laptops and tablets. The financial hurdles for young people are even higher because of high shipping and handling fees, said Williams.
“I remember the other day, students were saying that Government should really be putting a subsidy on the import of laptops because if you are saying that there is going to be wide online learning, then you are saying to me that I really need to have a laptop at home, or a tablet, and when I try to buy it from Amazon when the dollar is now $150 to US$1, it is very expensive,” said Williams.
“Even though we may have all these bright ideas to create jobs for ourselves and others, we also need to see an infrastructure in place by Government that will support these bright ideas.”