Acting Executive Director of the National Youth Service (NYS), Anthony Woodburn, just recently received the baton, but he is intent on winning the race to save Jamaica’s approximately 60,000 unattached youths from a life of crime.
“It’s the race between the NYS and the prisons, in order to capture that 60,000. I am not going to lose that race, I’m going after them; they are not going to prison,” he pledges.
The NYS is at a new juncture in its journey to bring about positive change in the behaviours of Jamaica’s unattached youths, aged 17 to 24. Mr. Woodburn believes that the methods employed by the NYS to modify the behaviours of youths, must match today’s circumstances or the organisation risks becoming irrelevant.
He says it is time the NYS becomes more pragmatic in its approach, as analysis has shown that despite past interventions, the cohort of unattached youths is becoming bigger each year.
“Why is it that NYS and other youth organisations, including support from the multilateral system and bilateral relationships, why is it that they have been putting resources into cauterising this at-risk group, and at the same time the at-risk group is getting bigger and bigger?” the Acting NYS head asks.
Declaring that “one size does not fit all”, Mr. Woodburn believes decentralisation of the NYS operations could help to make it more effective.
“So, we are getting specific. Certain parishes are predominantly agricultural, so what we’ll do is develop terms of references, and memoranda of understanding. For example, we are at the conceptualisation phase now with the Ministry of Agriculture, so that we can define programmes that can be retrofitted into those communities to capture those youths at risk,” he said.
While the NYS has the human resources required to move in the new direction, Mr. Woodburn says the organisation still has space issues to resolve.
“As we speak we are at the benevolence of other youth organisations, having two chairs and two desks in their offices. That will change. What we are going for is to have our parish offices exclusively NYS, where we’ll have the space for administrative capacity and, at the same time, a facility for training. We want to have training facilities in every single parish and that is central to the new methodology,” he emphasises.
Acting Executive Director of the National Youth Service (NYS), Anthony Woodburn, speaking with JIS News about his plans for the NYS and the strategies being employed to bring about positive changes in the lives of Jamaica’s youths.
He says that having fully functioning parish offices would allow each office to be able to deal with the issues specific to their parishes, rather than depending on the one-size-fits-all model. Decentralisation would also reduce the need for residential training, where participants attend training camps ahead of the six-month apprenticeship period.
“In having day seminars for a month instead of camps, we are looking at a reduction in costs of close to 50 per cent,” he illustrates.
Mr. Woodburn says the NYS is also seeking to become more self-sufficient by exploring ways to generate income, through public/private partnerships. He explains that it costs about US$1,074 to train each participant, with the majority of this amount being used to pay fortnightly stipends to trainees.
He explains further that a partnership could be developed, where the NYS trains workers for specific sectors of the economy, while the companies in these sectors pay the apprentices the stipend over the six-month period, reducing NYS expenses in that area. He discloses that some of the NYS’ private partners have already expressed a willingness to enter into such arrangements, during informal discussions.
An important area of reform is the move towards certifying trainees who have gone through the programme. Mr.Woodburn says a number of past participants in the NYS programme are still in the unattached category, because they were not able to progress in the world of work due to lack of certification.
“There is no certification. There is a certificate of participation, but that certificate has no standard; it hasn’t been certified. And, so, we have brought in the HEART Trust/NTA (National Training Agency) to assist us in developing our programmes so that, at the end of the apprenticeship programme, our participants will have the competence as well as the technical capacity to go forward,” he explains.
The NYS began training its first batch of teachers’ assistants under a certified training course in December. Another 380 are currently on stream for training, with another 690 to come on stream by the end of March. He says the teachers’ assistants are currently being trained up to HEART Level One, but that future projects will take the training further.
In addition, the NYS is seeking to move into new areas of training such as aquaculture and information technology.
Mr. Woodburn says the NYS is also in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Health to train approximately 2,000 nurses’ aides and public health inspectors.
Recently, the Ministry of Education conceptualised a new programme which will take the NYS into a new sphere of activity, that of targeting students while they are still in school, through the Career Advancement Programme (CAP).
Under CAP, the NYS will work with the Ministry, as well as the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL) and the HEART Trust/ NTA, to reach some of these youths and provide them with a skill while they are still in school.
Mr. Woodburn says the NYS is “ready to go”, and that he does not foresee the CAP programme diverting attention and resources from its core function of reaching unattached youths.
“As a matter of fact it is an enrichment to our programme, because that is also a new area of focus that we are looking at; moving away from the traditional to the more contemporary learning. Secondly, I must say that the CAP perhaps enhances our new methodology, our new direction of moving away from being too remedial to being more pragmatic. So, this would give NYS Regional Field Officers an opportunity to catch them before they go on the streets,” the NYS head explains.
Mr. Woodburn says the transition into the new operational framework has been challenging, but that the agency was reaching a period of equilibrium, where employers have recognised the value of the new direction and have bought into it.
“If we can achieve 15,000 trained participants across disciplines in Jamaica this year, then of course in another five years time, with increasing capacity and increasing output we can look back and say ‘yes, we did well’,” he concluded.