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Skill is power: broadening partnerships to promote youth employment

According to ILO estimates, nearly half of the world's more than 190 million unemployed people are under the age of 24. A target of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is to give young people a chance to find decent and productive work. ILO Online reports from Jamaica where the National Training Agency and the Jamaica Employers' Federation (JEF) promote learning opportunities and skills young people can use when they get out of school.

Article | 13 February 2006

RUNAWAY BAY, Jamaica (ILO Online) - The gentle fragrance of tropical flowers drifts in the sea breeze. The horizon is a brilliant collage of white sand and azure water. The perfect off-ramp for people on the fast track. Tucked away on the finest expanse of beach on Jamaica's famed North Coast, the Runaway Bay Hotel feels worlds away from reality.

But the hotel is closer to reality and the world of work than it appears at first sight. When Janet Dyer greets her staff at the hotel, it is a daily reminder of when she was a trainee here, fresh out of school. She had always wanted to teach, but had no experience and no money to continue her studies.

"When I heard about HEART and its motto "Skill is Power", I realized that skills are something I need to make my way in life", says the manager of the Runaway Bay HEART Hotel and Training Institute.

HEART is the National Training Agency of Jamaica which gives students a chance to extend their education through skills training. By working with local businesses like the Runaway Bay Hotel, HEART tries to better match the skills that students learn at school with the needs of the job market.

"What education systems produce in developed and developing countries invariably don't match up with what the economies and employment actually requires, so there's this gap", explains Robert Gregory, Executive Director of the HEART National Training Institute.

The country's employers have joined the battle against youth unemployment. "It's very important for the employers to be involved in what the training is going to be and what kind of curriculum is developed by HEART .... training makes you employable. If you're not trained, you're not educated, you will not be able to get a job", says Jacqueline Coke-Lloyd, CEO of the Jamaica Employers Federation (JEF).

Increasing the survival of young businesses

Support for entrepreneurship is another means to create jobs for young people. To increase the success rate of young and youth-owned businesses, JEF recently launched a Young Entrepreneurs Association (YEA).

"JEF's Young Entrepreneur's Association, is the first of its kind in the Caribbean... We welcome this association as a hub around which young entrepreneurs can negotiate and protect their interests - this should translate into a more robust economy, and a higher rate of employment", said the Prime Minister of Jamaica, P. J. Patterson, at the launch of YEA last month.

"There has been an overwhelming response to our latest initiative", says Coke-Lloyd. "This Association will provide its members with an opportunity to learn from each other's experiences, take advantage of peer support and benefit from mentorship as they and their businesses grow".

YEA is a member-run, volunteer-driven non-profit organization bringing young entrepreneurs together, facilitating connections with government, service providers, and other businesses. Young entrepreneurs benefit from the experiences of 'older' and successful members of the business community.

The YEA will also encourage partnerships and links at the national and international level. Perhaps one of the most distinguishing features will be the link that members will have to the International Labour Organization, International Organization of Employers (IOE) and the Caribbean Employers' Confederation (CEC). Thus young Jamaican entrepreneurs can benefit from capacity building, training, internships, scholarships, study tours, and access to other business markets and interests in over 170 countries.

"We have to support young people who have the motivation to be independent, not looking for a job but trying to create the job by doing business", concludes Jean-François Retournard, Director of the ILO Bureau for Employers' Activities.

No one knows that better than Janet Dyer. She has come full circle in her career. Not only is she now the manager of the hotel where she was trained, she also heads HEART's hotel school. For her, knowing that her students go on to work at world-class resorts throughout Jamaica is as refreshing as a skilfully poured glass of cold beer.