Local and global trends show that young people are in dire straits as the job market is unable to absorb them. At the same time, this trend says we are sitting on a ticking bomb. These are excitable people prone to incitement into thuggery and rebellion if nothing real and concrete is done for them.
In his latest contribution in the media, BMD vice president Ndaba Gaolathe made a point that must resonate with us all, regardless of political affiliation: "When students and young children grow up, in a system that tells them opportunity exists only when you are part of the ruling elite, as a high government or ruling party operative, then you know our system is broken...". For the youth in particular, including those in the ruling party, I differ here with Gaolathe. Many of our youth are mere cheer leaders in politics and industry. They have no significant input into the actual programmes that determine important outcomes of opportunity and development. This is something we must do differently as a country.
UNICEF shows that youth unemployment in the 15-19 age group in Botswana is 45 percent - that is some 23 percent higher than the national unemployment rate and just five percent below Greece, a country in crisis. Part of the explanation for the high rates is lack of evidence based programming in our schemes which leads to failure to address age specific concerns by the interventions. The previous budget speech identified youth unemployment as a problem and we must now determine how much progress has been made on this issue.
The most marginalised groups of young people are the jobless. In the jargon of economists, these are the so-called NEETs - youngsters Not in Employment, Education or Training. NEETs are not only without jobs, but they tend to partake in social ills they otherwise would avoid.
Putting it all in perspective, one realises that effectively, the entire world is in trouble over unemployed and out of school youth. Time magazine's Peter Gumbel for example reported late last year that the latest unemployment statistics showed that "the picture is especially bleak for young Europeans under the age of 25. In the 27 EU nations as a whole, the youth unemployment rate rose to 22.8% in September, up from 21.7% the previous year". In Greece and Spain the figures are extraordinarily high at over 50%. Meanwhile, "in the US, the unemployment rate was essentially unchanged in October 2012, at 7.9%, the Bureau of Labour Statistics announced November 2. And the US rate of unemployment among young people under 25 was 16%". This is the global picture. Young people are having it tough because they do not have the experience and in some cases, skills to compete in a labour market that is going through a lean patch.
While the above statistics sadden you, I want you to note that the official statistics we usually receive paint a picture that is far less dire. And that is the problem with statistics, they are dependent on certain variables. It is for example the case that some people are simply never included because they are just not counted, some because they are not actively seeking employment because they have become discouraged. Beyond the statistics, the problem is far worse.
It is only natural that we are in the trouble that we face today. We have added about three billion people to the human population since 1980 according to UN projections, but we have not added the same number of jobs. The replacement of manufacturing jobs with service industry positions is a philosophical change that began in the 1980s. Globally, we have been digging the hole we are currently in for almost 30 years. The intention of the service industry change was to turn us from blue-collar workers into white-collar ones. Instead, we have created a generation of well-educated and deserving young people who are competing furiously to get positions in the services industries that offer very little. Many still consider the education with production of the Van Rensburg and BNF school of thought of the Social Democratic Programme a laughable relic of the past. But it is actually what we need to help alleviate the problem.
Gumbel for example points out to the factors that make some countries better off in dealing with youth unemployment. He observes that they have particularly extensive professional training programmes for young people with Germany's apprenticeship schemes the best known. "They start early, at age 15 or 16, and mix classroom time with practical experience on the factory floor. The training lasts between one and a half and three years, and by the time they finish, most apprentices move straight into full-time employment. Some of them even end up as CEOs- Hermann Josef Strenger of the chemical giant Bayer, for example".
For this to be possible though, government must make a deliberate shift towards an education that trains our youth for industry. And industry must demand that sort of training from government too. Not only that, industry must then be willing to reward good performers with ready jobs upon graduation. While there is a cost to all these, rewards are galore. We need to pay more attention to how we can better serve these under-utilised people so we can return the tax-base to a functional state and reduce dependence on social security. In that way, we would save the lost generation. Our national budget needs to reflect this sort of bias to youth.
We no doubt are doing extremely well in terms of providing basic free education and tertiary education. The biggest problem is we are educating, or seem to be educating, for the sake of it. It appears we lack a logical framework of why we are educating all these people.
There are other ideas on solving this problem. Chairman of Addecco Group, Rolf Dorig wrote for Project Syndicate, that the European Commission has placed youth unemployment high on its agenda. Indeed, last month, European Commissioner, L‡szl— Andor announced the adoption of the 'Youth Employment Package', which is essentially a set of proposals designed to help EU member states and relevant stakeholders to tackle youth unemployment and social exclusion.
A key recommendation is the creation of national "youth guarantee schemes," which would ensure that all citizens under 25 can obtain a job, an apprenticeship, or a traineeship within four months of leaving formal education or becoming jobless. Given the potential of such schemes to narrow the gap between education and work, and to improve young people's employability, governments were urged to pursue the recommendation earnestly, by implementing measures aimed at enabling labour integration and forging partnerships with stakeholders. This is the direction we should be taking in Botswana, more so that we have relatively fewer numbers of youths. But again, we have fewer jobs! It is a conundrum that demands we then create jobs.
There is danger in this unemployed battalion. They could some day easily pop at the doors of those who have and demand their fair share of the goodies. As such, as the Minister for Finance, Kenneth Matambo carries his briefcase into Parliament, he must keep this in mind. We have schemes in place but they are obsolete for a number of reasons. If allowed to continue, our labour-market crisis will inflict lasting damage on an entire generation, with unforeseeable effects on employment, productivity, and social cohesion. Reversing this trend will require concrete proposals and decisive action from government and other stakeholders.
Matambo's budget speech must reflect an awareness of this reality: of the fact that we have youth whom the system is not working for. The reasons for these are obvious: government pumps money into schemes to serve the youth. But the truth is that most of those schemes are not accessible to a boy who failed Form 3 and is unable to put together a comprehensive business proposal. We must admit that not everyone is cut out to be in business. Very few people in this country have an entrepreneurial mind. While at it, the demands that some of these schemes place upon young people mean the schemes are doomed to fail right at inception: go out to where youth go and hear them speak of the bottle necks they encounter to access such schemes. We must do better than this; and it starts right in the budget speech.