(Address by His Excellency David Granger at the Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial (SLED) Initiative Award Ceremony)
This country will falter if its youth flounders. Youth will fail if employment is unavailable.
Employment will be difficult to find without education.
Employment is essential to human development. Employment provides incomes which generate sustainable livelihoods. Employment improves everyone’s standard of living and quality of life. It shapes people’s life expectations and creates a sense of identity. It is the principal means which allows people to escape from poverty. Employment enhances economic development.
The administration is committed to generating employment in the economy. The pre-Independence administrations bequeathed a legacy of youth unemployment. The establishment, first of the Guyana Youth Corps (GYC) in 1967 and, later, the Guyana National Service (GNS) in 1973, were the earliest governmental attempts to train youths for employment.
The deliberate dissolution of the GNS in 2000 triggered a surge in youth unemployment the effects of which the country is now enduring. This administration, therefore, has re-embarked on a strategy to prepare youths for the world of work.
The Minister of Finance, in the administration’s first budget presentation a mere three months after the May 2015 general and regional elections in August 2015, announced the launch of the Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) Initiative.
The SLED Initiative emphasises the administration’s employment policy by encouraging entrepreneurship, particularly for young people. It contradicts the criticisms that the administration has no employment plan for the unemployed and the underemployed.
The SLED Initiative is part of a programme that reinforces the administration’s efforts to stimulate economic development in communities, especially at the grassroot level. It has provided training, mentorship, business development skills and start-up grants to individuals and groups.
The administration also announced the launch of the Linden Enterprise Network (LEN) which enabled 40 youngish entrepreneurs from across the Upper Demerara-Berbice Region to receive loans to further facilitate their business enterprises. This was made possible through the administration’s $155 million subvention to LEN in the FY (Financial Year) 2015 budget.
I exhorted Lindeners to think outside of the box and to seek new business ventures, such as those in agriculture. I encouraged residents, for example, to each plant a breadfruit tree, as business could be found in making breadfruit chips as an alternative to imported potato chips. The Region alone has the potential to produce one million kilogrammes of breadfruit every year.
I compared the dependency on wage labour to an addiction, and encouraged residents to withdraw from this addiction and become enterprising and self-employed. I suggested that, with the establishment of ‘capital towns’ in every region, the aim should be to create a Youth Enterprise Network (YEN) in every town and not solely in Linden.
The administration, in order to reduce unemployment, also launched the billion-dollar Hinterland Employment Youth Service (HEYS). This service – aimed at 2000 young people in one hundred and six communities in the four hinterland regions Barima-Waini, Cuyuni-Mazaruni, Potaro-Siparuni and Rupununi – is administered by the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs.
The SLED, HEYS and LEN initiatives are all part of that the administration’s grand youth employment strategy. That strategy stands on a bipod of education and entrepreneurship.
Education is one of the state’s most important functions. Education unlocks opportunities for young people, who must be prepared to grasp opportunities for self-employment. They must be educated if they are to improve their performance and acquire the correct attitudes, values and skills to secure employment.
Employers have complained frequently of young applicants who do not possess the skills needed to fill vacancies. The secondary school matriculation rate is low, with only 2,380 or 28.3 per cent of the 8,430 public school students who wrote the CSEC examinations in 2015 securing passes in five or more subjects, including Mathematics and English. Retraining is needed to improve the ‘marketability’ of those school graduates who do not leave school with satisfactory qualifications.
Young people must be equipped with knowledge of information technology in order to be better integrated into an increasingly knowledge-intensive job market. Information technology is a driver of economic growth, particularly for the services sector. The liberalisation of the telecommunications sector will encourage increased investment and employment. We will continue to encourage the growth of the information communication technology sector because of its potential for employment.
Entrepreneurship will stimulate employment in industries, including agro-processing and micro-industries in rural and hinterland communities. Entrepreneurship will be promoted so that more persons, including young people, could start-up their own business and become self-employed.
The government’s employment strategy depends on attracting foreign and domestic investment. Initiatives are needed to help our young people to overcome the constraints to greater self-employment. The lack of access to finance is one such constraint.
The government has begun to improve access to finance for business start-ups. It will continue to do this for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which account for half of all formal employment globally, and which tend to enjoy higher levels of job growth when compared to large enterprises.
The government, quite clearly, has been finding employment for the unemployed. The Central Recruitment and Manpower Agency of the Ministry of Social Protection registered 3,430 job-seekers in 2015 and placements were found for 3,051 persons or 89 per cent of those registered in that year.
There is need for more employment to meet people’s needs, especially of the 15,000 students graduating from the University of Guyana and from our secondary schools every year.
The World Bank has estimated the youth unemployment rate in Guyana at just below 25 per cent. The Caribbean Development Bank, in a study entitled Youth are the Future. Employment for Sustainable Development in the Caribbean claimed that youth employment in Guyana since 2000 has been around 40 per cent.
The unemployment rate will escalate unless there are measured interventions to meet young people’s needs. The state will do everything necessary to find employment for all young school-leavers. The public services, together with the private sector and foreign corporations must combine their efforts and energies to generate employment.
This administration has demonstrated its commitment to creating an enabling environment for economic growth by:
– ensuring macro-economic stability by maintaining low inflation and exchange rate and interest rate stability;
– encouraging increased employment-generating domestic and foreign investment; and
– enacting simplified systems of business registration, licences, permits and regulations and excising bureaucratic bottlenecks.
The SLED Initiative, in collaboration with the Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) initiative has been providing skills-training to disadvantaged youths. Training is important, but certification must be converted into careers. The Initiative’s beneficiaries must be equipped for employment or self-employment. Certification must enhance employment prospects and bring increased recognition to those who are starting their own businesses.
The SLED Initiative, through its programmes and with its partners, is fostering a culture of self-employment. It must be commended for the fruitful partnerships that it has developed with other programmes such as the SKYE Initiative, which is part of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative and which targets at-risk youth and the Caribbean Local Economic Development Project (CARILED). The LEN and HEYS initiatives, additionally, will create more opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship.
These initiatives have all made small but smart starts to overcoming the problem of unemployment. Their impact on employment and enterprise generation has resulted in business start-ups, provided support to several groups and will set the stage to be introduced into all ten administrative regions.
These initiatives are about the future. They must also make themselves more relevant by exploiting emerging opportunities through the creation of green enterprises and green employment. They must empower a corps of young people who will become the new entrepreneurial class.
No one can doubt the government’s commitment to ensuring ‘a good life for all’ through education, employment and enterprise.