By Terrence Blackman, Ph. D. & Utamu Bell
Guyana’s oil and gas industry is rapidly growing, and with it comes an opportunity to empower the country’s youth, particularly the marginalised, to actively participate in its economy.
During the most recent “Transforming Guyana” webinar, experts discussed the need to invest in technology and new energy generation, evaluate young people’s role in the future, provide education, training, and opportunities for young people to acquire assets and housing, empower girls through technology, create infrastructure for innovators, and develop a comprehensive youth development plan with buy-in from all stakeholders and legislative protection.
Guyana is a young country where the median age is 26.2 years. The majority of the population in Guyana are young people, but unfortunately, a significant number of them are at risk of being left behind. The youth unemployment rate for the first quarter of 2021 was 31.4%, and more young women are unemployed (41.9%) compared to young men (23.7%). Shockingly, 35.9% of youth (young men and women) must be employed, educated, or trained. Among young women, the rate is even higher at 45.6%. This situation is mainly due to talent migration.
Guyana gained independence from Britain in 1966, but political turmoil and economic hardship marked the next few decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, Guyana’s socialist government nationalised many industries and implemented policies that led to economic stagnation and high inflation. This, in turn, led to widespread poverty and limited job opportunities for highly skilled workers. As a result, many educated and experienced Guyanese left the country for better opportunities abroad. The United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom were popular destinations for Guyanese immigrants, who often found work in fields such as engineering, medicine, and finance.
In recent years, the Guyanese government has tried to address the issue of talent migration by implementing policies to encourage skilled Guyanese to stay in the country. For example, the government has a scholarship program for students pursuing degrees in fields such as engineering and agriculture, with the condition that they serve Guyana after completing their studies.
However, talent remains a significant challenge for Guyana, particularly in healthcare and education. The country continues to lose many of its most talented doctors, nurses, and teachers to other countries, significantly impacting Guyana’s quality of these services.
Also important is the intersection of talent migration and local content policies in Guyana, particularly considering the country’s recent oil discoveries. Local content policies aim to promote the participation of local businesses and workers in the oil and gas sector. At the same time, talent migration results in the loss of skilled workers and expertise needed to support the development of various industries.
One approach to addressing the intersection of talent migration and local content policies is to create opportunities for skilled Guyanese living abroad to contribute to the country’s development. For example, the government could establish programs targeted explicitly to Guyanese living abroad to encourage them to return home and work in the oil and gas sector or to provide consulting services to local businesses and organisations.
Empowering Guyana’s youth in the emerging oil and gas sector will require rigorous, sustained, innovative education, training, access to capital, and legislative support.
Dr. David Lewis, CPC Fellow, and Co-Chair, emphasized investing in technology and new energy generation for Guyana’s future. With Guyana on the brink of becoming the country with the most barrels of oil per person globally, Lewis noted the critical need to define young people’s role in this rapidly changing future. He argued that investing in technology and new energy generation should be a priority for the government, as it will pave the way for continuing economic growth and development.
Elson Low, the Youth and Economics Advisor to the Leader of the Opposition, proposed education, training, and opportunities for young people to acquire assets and housing. Low also stressed the need to give young entrepreneurs access to capital, allowing them to compete and scale their businesses, thereby contributing to Guyana’s economic prosperity.
Karen Abrams, CEO STEMGuyana, pointed to the employment mismatch in the country, where many young people need more skills for various industries. She emphasized the need to purposefully prepare young people for meaningful contributions to Guyana’s development. Abrams also stressed empowering girls through technology, breaking the cycle of poverty, and addressing societal issues. She argued that the government should provide infrastructure and a level playing field for innovators rather than attempting to drive innovation itself.
Ronald Austin Jr., Columnist and Former Vice President of the University of Guyana Student Society, suggested creating a youth development master plan connected to the country’s overall development plan, with buy-in from all stakeholders. He called for legislative protection and structured interventions aligned with the vision of using oil and gas revenues to develop a knowledge-based economy.
A comprehensive development plan, supported by all stakeholders, will ensure the country’s sustainable growth and a bright future for its younger generations. Investing in technology and new energy generation, providing education, and training, and creating infrastructure for innovators are crucial steps toward achieving this goal. Moreover, it is essential to be intentional about our girls and endeavor to connect them to technology to catalyse their contributions to the country’s development and to break the cycle of poverty.
About the Author
Dr. Terrence Richard Blackman, associate professor of mathematics and a founding member of the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics at Medgar Evers College, is a member of the Guyanese diaspora. He is a former Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor at MIT and a Visitor to The School of Mathematics at The Institute for Advanced Study. Dr. Blackman has previously served as Chair of the Mathematics Department and Dean of the School of Science, Health, and Technology at Medgar Evers College, where he has worked for almost thirty years. He graduated from Queen’s College, Guyana, Brooklyn College, CUNY, and the City University of New York Graduate School. He is the Founder of the Guyana Business Journal & Magazine.
Utamu Belle is an award-winning Guyanese journalist with a career spanning over a decade. Her experience includes writing for print, television, and online media. In addition, she has worked as a Radio and Television host. She is the Founder of A-to-Z Media (Guyana) and an Upscale Magazine News and Digital Editor.