By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nearly 11,000 young Bahamians on New Providence are unemployed, of whom 13 per cent have given up looking for work and are helping to feed the rising crime and murder rates.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), in a report for the $20 million Citizen Security and Justice programme that launched yesterday, said the increasing youth unemployment rate in the Bahamas had “a positive correlation” with rising levels of violent crime.
With more than 1,300 unemployed New Providence residents, aged between 15 to 29 years-old, having given up actively looking for work, the IDB report blamed this on a “skills mismatch” between employers and workers.
It also slammed the “fragmented workforce development policy and low effectiveness of existing labour intermediation initiatives” by the Government.
While praising the National Training Agency’s launch, the IDB reserved its harshest criticism for the Government’s Skills Bank and Labour Exchange.
It said these referred just 9 per cent of job seekers to existing employment vacancies, and placed “less than 2 per cent” of unemployed Bahamians who are actively seeking work.
The IDB report effectively amounts to a damning indictment of how Bahamian society, the education system and government agencies are failing to adequately equip almost one-third of young adults for the workforce and a productive life.
“In New Providence specifically, 10,605 youth between 15-29 years old are either unemployed or discouraged, and out of these, 13 per cent are discouraged,” the report said.
Based on that percentage, some 1,379 young adults in Nassau and elsewhere in New Providence have given up seeking work, something that the report implied fed into the ever-growing crime rate.
“Youth unemployment rates (15-24 years) and robbery, murder and burglary rates have a positive correlation, all of them showing increasing trends,” the IDB report said.
“In The Bahamas, youth unemployment rates are high and have been increasing for over 10 years (from 15 per cent in 2001 to 30.8 per cent in 2014 for 15-24 year olds).
“The country also faces high rates of long-term unemployment, where 50 per cent of youth remain unemployed for more than a year.
“High youth unemployment is a worldwide phenomenon to which the region is not immune, but according to the most recent data available in household surveys, four Caribbean countries (Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and Barbados) are the ones that face the region’s highest youth unemployment rates (32.5 per cent, 28.3 per cent, 30.8 per cent and 26.1 per cent, respectively).”
The Bahamas thus has the second highest youth unemployment rate in the Caribbean, something the IDB said was exacerbated by the absence of job-specific and technical skills among potential employees.
Drawing on the findings from a 2012 survey of 505 Bahamian businesses, which was undertaken to determine their labour needs, the IDB report said: “Employers report the lack of specific skills as the most important barrier to recruit workers (34 per cent), followed by applicants’ lack of experience (29 per cent) and applicants’ lack of soft skills (28 per cent).
“This reality is associated with the lack of relevance of the education and training system. Finally, the fact that employers do not find the right skills among job seekers is more worrisome for young people, since the combination of lack of skills, training and work experience can lead to a vicious cycle of unemployment.”
The IDB report said the 2012 survey found that 34 per cent of the surveyed firms, all from different industries, hired foreign labour to fill jobs “which could otherwise be occupied by Bahamians, including youth”.
A deeper analysis of the 2012 survey found that, in the case of worker dismissals, 65 per cent - almost two-thirds - were related to ‘behaviour/conduct’ issues and a lack of ‘soft skills’.
Around 80 per cent of companies interviewed provided a new worker with training once they were hired, with almost 50 per cent giving training to improve staff “productivity, sales and soft skills”. Around 79 per cent of employers always put new staff on probation.
“The lack of skills (particularly soft skills) is identified with productivity losses due to unsatisfactory performance, absenteeism, lack of responsibility and commitment to the job,” the IDB analysis added.
“The lack of specific skills increases the time spent on recruiting workers. The lack of soft skills is the main reason for dismissals, increasing turnover costs for the firms.”
It added: “Overall, the analysis tells that more integration is needed between the private sector labour demand and the provision of training in the country.
“On-the-job training strategies can align workers’ skills with specific skills demands, benefiting both the labour force and overall productivity. Focus on soft-skills training is key to enhancing worker employability and retention, and job seekers must be told what skills and training the current labour market demands.
“Investing successfully in labour force skills development can be a main driver of economic and social growth, and will demonstrate that upgrading both technical and soft skills is key to increasing productivity and competitiveness, adapting to new technologies and creating stable work opportunities for workers.”
Still, the IDB gave the Bahamas some credit for introducing the National Training Agency, but added that Public Employment Services (PES) - the Labour Exchange and Skills Bank- were far from adequate.
“The Bahamas has limited resources to support youth at risk in order to improve their opportunities in the labour market,” the IDB report said.
“In general, existing youth training programmes focus on engaging youth through activities such as art, sports, foreign languages and music, while only a limited number are targeted at developing specific skills for increasing employability and job placement in particular industries.”
It added: “The Bahamas also has a PES under the Ministry of Labour with limited capacity - in terms of qualified personnel, soft and hard infrastructure, and articulation with the private sector – to be aware of current vacancies and be able to respond to the demands of current and potential employers.
“Currently, the PES only refer 9 per cent of job seekers to vacancies, and place less than 2 per cent of unemployed individuals.”