By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
AN executive of the Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) stressed yesterday that the government’s proposed apprenticeship scheme should have have been implemented much sooner than a year before the next election.
Delano Munroe, YEP president and CEO, spoke to The Tribune about the government’s $22m apprenticeship programme aimed to reduce youth unemployment.
Prime Minister Christie announced during his 2016/2017 Budget Communication last month that the programme will be jointly managed by the Office of the Prime Minister and the National Training Agency. At the time, he noted that the programme is unlike the 52-week jobs plan created by the former Ingraham administration in 2011 that was criticised by the PLP, then in opposition, as an attempt to sway votes ahead of the 2012 general election.
The $22m allocated for the apprenticeship programme was not included as a line item under the Office of the Prime Minister in the 2016-2017 budget.
It was also not included as a line item under the National Training Agency.
“The Bahamian electorate is a more intelligent group of people. They research, they investigate and they can see straight through smoke and mirrors,” Mr Munroe said.
“I tried to get additional information on the job scheme programme and I was brushed off and told nothing was happening until November, but I’m told it’s supposed to start as early as this week.
“However, a 52-week job scheme or work apprenticeship programme is only a Band-Aid over a festering youth and unemployment problem that is contributing tremendously to our crime and social problems. A programme now being implemented doesn’t inspire hope. It will be merely viewed as an election tactic to try to gain support.”
“If the government was serious about such an initiative it should have been implemented about two or three years ago. High youth unemployment, and unemployment on the whole, has been an issue for years and we as a country really didn’t see any real effort to address it besides placing all of our eggs in the basket of Baha Mar that was to come on stream.
“The troubling thing is that some 6,000 young people were graduated this month from high school. They will now add to the thousands still out there in the job market searching for employment opportunities. I am very concerned and discouraged by the current outlook and opportunities for these job seekers.”
According to the latest Labour Force Survey, both New Providence and Grand Bahama experienced increases in their unemployment rates, pushing the figures to 15.9 per cent and 14.2 per cent respectively.
The youth unemployment rate was pegged at 30 per cent in November 2015, nearly five per cent more than the 25.3 per cent recorded in the May 2015 survey. The survey noted that young people between the ages of 15 to 24 continue to face a considerably higher rate of unemployment than any other group.
“A programme such as what is being proposed is too costly to the public purse to do annually but certainly the funds invested in Junkanoo Carnival and possibly a percentage of income from value added tax (VAT) should have been earmarked for a scheme such as this. I think the Bahamian people could appreciate it and accept it for what it is,” Mr Munroe said.
The previous administration’s programme paid and placed Bahamians who were unsuccessful at finding jobs in various positions in both the private and government sector. The employers then had the option to permanently hire the workers if they so desired after 52 weeks.
In criticising the plan, the PLP said some people paid under the scheme did not show up for work.
Mr Christie said his government’s plan “is not strictly about job placement for the unemployed but rather training to ensure that persons are able to attract and retain long-term employment.”
Mr Christie said the programme is structured similarly to a scheme that already exists between the government and the Grand Bahama Shipyard Ltd (GBSL).
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