There is no skill that is unreachable because of “who you are” or “where you are”

Dear Editor,
COVID-19 is casting a long shadow over the futures of young people all around Guyana. For children and young people looking to gain an education and skills, COVID-19 has made a bad situation even worse. Before the pandemic, they faced a growing mismatch between the skills learnt in school and those needed for employment. Now, under COVID-19, thousands of young people who were set to join the workforce cannot find jobs.
This moment is an important opportunity to reimagine how and what education and skills are delivered to prepare students for a rapidly changing “world” of work, but our PPP/C Government cannot address this problem alone.
Young people have been hard hit by the wide-reaching labour market and social impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Youth unemployment has increased considerably; education and work-based learning has been heavily disrupted; and many young people are suffering from financial insecurity, housing instability, and mental distress. Many work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities which can help smooth school-to-work transitions have also been disrupted,
However, PPP/C Government has responded to this situation by taking comprehensive policy measures for young people, ranging from labour market and income support measures to housing responses and mental health support; with polices providing several measures being put in place to avoid a long-lasting negative impact on the employment prospects and aspirations of young people.
With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, even greater efforts are needed to address students’ academic and social emotional needs, all the while making up for learning loss and preparing for the unpredictable combinations of distance learning, blended learning, and in-classroom learning. These expectations, along with the need for greater emphasis on equity-focused teaching and learning, have raised the bar for educators and for education preparation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way we live, work and learn. For more than 17 months, each day has been veiled with a sense of uncertainty, fear and isolation. Maintaining positivity amid all these negatives is a big challenge. More than ever, how fast we recover and positively adapt to this new normal of our life – the essence of resilience – is critically important. We need to support our children in developing capacities such as resilience, for them to emerge stronger and better after this crisis.
The prevailing discourse on upskilling focuses too heavily on the skills side, and not enough on the learners. It’s hard to forecast what skills a business would need in 5 years; there are so many external variables, plus businesses have a tendency to change – sometimes dramatically. But that’s just why persistence and lifelong learning are so important.
This crisis has taught us that online learning is possible. It’s taught us how to use online tools to exchange skills, teach and learn.
Another theme that came through strongly was the potential of digital connectivity and online learning to expand access to opportunities for young people in Guyana.
To reimagine the future of skills, I think we need more diverse online learning exchange programmes. And if we can make sure every young person in the vulnerable communities has access to a tablet or a laptop computer and the internet, it’s a way for us to build a fairer future for skills.
Where I grew up in Region 10, you don’t necessarily aspire to become an engineer, you aspire to become an employee of the bauxite company, and I think that needs to change.
It’s the notion of decentralising education and understanding that it doesn’t only happen in the classroom.
It’s also about specifically trying to reach out to those who are in vulnerable situations.
On the business side, it’s about creating opportunities for people in vulnerable communities. When you think of people getting internships, it’s often because they’re in the suburbs or they’re able to access office parks. We need to make sure young people in vulnerable communities have access to those opportunities too.
Our PPP/C Government has established a powerful vision for Guyana’s future, which all young people should aspire to while looking forward to a future in which every young person who has a dream will never feel their dream is limited because of their circumstances; that there is no skill that is unreachable because of who you are or where you are.
We must all agreed that, to be successful in the future of work, our generation will need strong soft skills such as communication, critical thinking and resilience – and that they’ll need to keep learning all their lives.

David Adams