As young leaders and Youth Ministers meet in Antigua and Barbuda for the Caribbean Region Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting (CR-CYMM), Samantha Khan, 22, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Trinidad and Tobago, reflects on a major challenge facing young people: the scourge of unemployment and lack of opportunity.
With the completion of my undergraduate degree looming nearer, I have begun the daunting search for employment. I had hoped to find a job that could help support my postgraduate education while also providing me with some experience in my chosen field of study. As a young graduate, I expected to encounter some difficulty finding a suitable job, but this was complicated by the fact that my chosen field is within the cultural and creative industries.
Youth underemployment is on the rise as young people are being put into jobs for which we are overqualified and unsuitable and, unfortunately, this is especially true for the creative industries in which new artists, writers and cultural workers are often expected to work without pay while they build their career. The Caribbean nations, each with its own vibrant cultural identity and powerful presence in the creative world, should be seeking to support youth involvement in the cultural and creative industries as we start business and seek gainful employment.
With regard to launching projects, perhaps the most obstinate limitation is a lack of funding. Many visionary individuals in the creative and cultural sector are unable to bring their ideas to life because of the lack of available funding. After some research, I found that in Trinidad and Tobago, the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism has a programme by which individuals or organisations can apply for grants toward the development of skills or projects in the cultural and creative industries. This is a considerable initiative and is definitely something to be commended. It is my hope that, in future, more institutions will follow this example and establish programmes that lend financial support to young people trying to build careers in the creative sector.
In contrast, some young people may merely want to work in the creative industries rather than start their own ventures, but even this has proven to be extremely difficult. Young people looking for jobs in this sector often find themselves having to undertake unpaid internships in order to gain the experience necessary to move up the career ladder. While this is beneficial to employers and often provides new cultural/creative workers with crucial training, it is highly impractical and some might argue even exploitative. It would probably be helpful for new workers in this industry if there were more paid internships or apprenticeships available. While it may seem impractical from an employer’s point of view, even a small stipend to cover living and travel expenses would be invaluable.
In order to combat the growing popularity of unpaid internships, involvement on a governmental level might be necessary. This exploitative practice is not only prevalent in the cultural and creative industries but flourishes in most sectors. It is magnified, however, by the unfortunate fact that we live in a society that values art but is often unwilling to pay the artists for their efforts. It is a sad truth that only a few creative and cultural artisans ever achieve an esteemed enough status that affords them compensation for their work. If policy-makers were to bear this in mind and put measures in place to reduce the number of unpaid internships on offer while also increasing the opportunities for skill-building in the cultural and creative industries through paid apprenticeships, training sessions or workshops, perhaps there would be more young people able to explore careers in the sector.
All in all, while it may seem to be a slightly frivolous topic of discussion when there are undeniably more pressing concerns in today’s world such as child poverty and climate change, I believe that it would be remiss to ignore it completely.
Throughout history, the artists of a generation have been the ones who capture the zeitgeist and explore questions of humanity. In order to keep the effervescent, dynamic cultural and creative spirit of the Caribbean nations alive, we must encourage the young artists as they try to find footing in the sector. We must support the young person who dreams of being the Derek Walcott or Anya Ayoung-Chee of tomorrow.
“Hello! I’m a student from Trincity, Trinidad, and I love to write, read and sometimes draw. I would live in the cinema if I had the choice. I enjoy learning about as many different cultures as I possibly can.
“My dream is to become a novelist and through that, to challenge the stereotypes and constraints of society, as well as to provide thought-provoking material to shed new light on life itself. I believe that if we all shine a little light into the world, it will inevitably become a brighter place.”
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/
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