A pleasant good morning to one and all. Today I am delighted to have this occasion to deliver to the Territory’s youth additional opportunities provided by their government for their personal and professional advancement.
“The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they - at some distant point in the future - will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely... because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile." I could not have stated the importance of young people to our society more clearly, so I borrowed those words from writer Alvin Toffler.
Toffler’s words resonated with me because I have heard our youth cry out to participate in the development of this Territory, and at the same time, I have also heard the adults in our society complain about the preparedness of our young people to assume their positions in the Virgin Islands.
Prior to being an elected member of the Virgin Islands House of Assembly, I had the chance to speak with a wide variety of persons in the Territory on the challenges they faced personally and challenges the country faced. Over and over again, I found myself engaged in conversations with mothers, grandmothers, aunts and fathers complaining about how hard it is for their young family members to find employment in their own home. I heard young people admit that they felt unprepared for the jobs advertised in the newspapers, and as a business owner myself, quite frequently, that reality was met in my businesses.
With the leadership of our Premier, Hon Dr D. Orlando Smith, his administration has sent a very public message to the young people of this Territory that they are indeed needed, not in the distant future, certainly not just a few months every four years, but right now. Our Government realises that in order for the Virgin Islands to maintain a relevant and vibrant economy, we need to find opportunities to prepare our young people today, so that they can properly take care of this country tomorrow.
Our community must realize that if investments such as the ones we are showcasing this morning are not made for the development of our young people, as a country we will be shortchanging ourselves from the vitality, ambition, imagination, and genius that resides in all of our young people.
Studies show that young persons with a sense of purpose, preparedness and access to opportunities for both further education and work, are less likely to engage in negative behaviour that can have adverse effects on their future prospects as well as the communities in which they live. So in short ladies and gentlemen, we have no choice, but to provide opportunities for our youth to develop in order for the country that we love remain a vibrant place to live, work and do business.
In December of 2011 we set about to create a youth unemployment registry to capture data to show us the real situation of youth unemployment in this country. Within a few weeks over 500 young persons registered, a startling number for our population. We proceeded to hire an employment counselor in Mr. Albert Wheatley and set about to prepare our young people for employment by doing a series of developmental workshops as well as provide opportunities; such as today to give our youth prime occasions to interact with perspective employers as well as new and innovative means for their job search.
With the launch of Youth VI – our initial concept of an online job board, has now evolved to not only act as an online platform for young persons on all of our islands to readily find employment and our business community to interact with young, fresh talent, we now also seek to provide a hub for youth centred activity for Virgin Islands youth.
Over the next few months, we will be marketing this website both to the youth of this Territory, as well as businesses and relevant organisations that should have an interest in youth development. The site’s flexibility will allow us to have a calendar of events for government and non-governmental opportunities for enrichment for our young people, whether it may be workshops, government initiatives or even international news relevant to the youth of the Virgin Islands.
With the recent completion of our Youth Policy, I also anticipate that when our Youth Council and Youth Commission come on stream, the Territory’s youth will have a place online to be updated on all matters from these organisations as well as opportunities for participation.
Many of the adults in this room, if we allow ourselves to think back to the first chance we had to become gainfully employed, we would recall the many lessons we learned. We would recall the importance of that first job in helping us find our path to independence. It is that experience that through Youth VI and our Apprenticeship Programme, we are attempting to provide for the young people here in the Virgin Islands.
It is important for our community to understand the symbiotic relationship between the education system and the private sector in the overall development of our people and our country. We need to provide good workers for businesses, and we need those businesses to hire our young people, to enhance the services they offer to us, and to provide our youth with the experiences, tools, and skills for them to begin to live independent lives and contribute to the Territory’s development.
The United States of America is known as one of the most innovative and thriving countries in the world. It was American innovation that pushed the envelope and allowed the world to experience the motor vehicle, safe private air travel, the telephone, motion picture, wireless communication and everyone’s favourite iPhone or iPad. Behind that innovation were entrepreneurs, private citizens, taking a risk on an idea and a dream that eventually changed the world forever.
The America that the world knows today was not only built on strong government policies, but it was also built with the hard work and contributions of those in the private sector. Today 91% of working Americans are employed in the private sector and the country continues to forge new markets in which we all benefit from.
Here in the Virgin Islands we have young and seasoned men and women with ideas that can equally improve the lives of residents of this Territory and even those outside of this Territory. But to get to that level we must support the development of a vibrant private sector. All of us must see the value and innovation the private sector brings to our economy and the impact that everyday businesses have on our lives. Yet there seems to be a growing trend amongst some politicians to use the platform of representing the people of the Virgin Islands to political persons that hold private businesses.
The Virgin Islands economy cannot effectively support our needs, without our private sector. It is those same private businesses that I as Minister with responsibility for Youth Affairs have gone to, seeking opportunities for employment for the hundreds of young Virgin Islanders without work. The public sector cannot employ everyone, but if the mission of some politicians to tear down members of the private sector succeeds, who will employ those young people seeking their first opportunity to gain employment and their chance to live independent lives?
I want to again publicly thank the businesses that have partnered with us since the start of Youth Employment Services in 2011. I would particularly like to thank today all the businesses that came forward to assist their company by agreeing to give these young people a chance to build their skills and to find employment. It is a demonstration of your business identifying with the community in which it operates.
With the young persons in our programme you have the opportunity to train an employee to suite the needs of your organisation. They come with a desire to learn and new attitudes to be the best employees possible. I ask that you give them a fair chance, mentor them and provide them the guidance that someone provided many of us when we first got the opportunity to earn a living.
To the young persons participating in this programme. Your Government and the private sector have gone out on a limb for you. We have not only invested resources for you to get training but we have also invested finances to give you a chance to gain experience on the job. I repeat - this opportunity is about the experience you will be getting that will allow you to access further opportunities. If you are in it to make a few dollars to hold you over, then this is not the programme for you.
I ask that you give this apprenticeship programme your very best effort. Show up to work with a positive attitude and mind ready to put in an honest day’s work. Be prepared to bring your youthful enthusiasm, creativity and sharp minds to add value to your new place of employment. I will be personally checking up on all of you, and I do not expect to hear any bad reports from any of our employment partners. Young people, this is an opportunity of a lifetime, and I beg you not to waste it. We want the very best for you and our entire community will be looking on, cheering for you.
I want to say a special thank you to our Premier and Minister for Finance who continues to demonstrate that his administration is not just about lip service when it comes to the Territory’s youth. His administration understands that the young people of the Virgin Islands deserve more than a few basketball tournaments and petty contracts. The young people of our islands deserve real opportunities to advance their lives, independent of any politician. As you heard this morning, he has approved funds to allow us to hire an additional 20 young persons through our apprenticeship programme. Premier we thank you.
We initially budgeted for 85 placements in the apprenticeship programme and with the Premier’s assistance we can now have 105 young persons in the programme. To date we have trained 72 young persons and we will be working to ensure that all 105 budgeted spots for this programmed is filled by our young people.
I would also like to thank Mrs. Judith Vanterpool and Mr Albert Wheatley who continue to work with our young people, preparing them for job interviews and teaching them important skills for them to be successful both on the job and in life. I must thank my Permanent Secretary, Dr. Marcia Potter for working steadfastly with me to put this program together. Assistant Secretary Mrs Brenda Lettsome-Tye has continued to be a key person in helping to see our youth development projects to fruition and I remain very grateful for her hard work and support.
Ladies and gentlemen, youthvi.com is now live and I would now like to also declare our first Apprenticeship Programme Job Fair, officially open. Thank you employers and I wish all of our young people the very best in their employment search this morning. God bless.