Kazakhstan, as we are all aware, has been blessed with an abundance of natural resources under our soil and seas. The growth of our economy and the transformation of living standards since independence have been built on the harnessing of our oil and gas reserves and other natural resources as well, of course, as the hard work and good sense of our citizens and strong, stable leadership.
But while these industries will continue to be very important to our future, Kazakhstan has already recognised that they can’t carry our country to the next stage of development and prosperity. This will only be achieved, as President Nursultan Nazarbayev has said, through the talents and drive of our country’s young people.
Here, too, Kazakhstan has been fortunate. While many countries are seeing their populations stagnate or even shrink, our demographic trends are much more positive. We are a young country not just in the years as a modern independent nation but also in the make-up of our population.
Around four out of ten Kazakhs are now under 24. Well over 25 percent are millennials, born this century. It is an advantage many other countries which are facing the financial and social pressures that an ageing and shrinking population can bring look at with envy.
What, of course, makes this demographic dividend more beneficial is that young Kazakhs are far better educated and prepared than any previous generation for the opportunities and challenges ahead. Over one in three of our young people have gone through higher education.
As these talented young people enter the labour market in ever increasing numbers, they should provide the engine needed to drive our economy and country to the next level. If we are to achieve the over-arching ambition of Kazakhstan joining the ranks of the world’s top 30 developed nations by 2050, we need them to provide the skills, make the breakthroughs and build the pioneering companies.
Their critical importance to Kazakhstan’s future is one of the reasons why 2019 has been declared the Year of Youth. It is a chance to celebrate and showcase – as President Nazarbayev did last month in Astana – the already major contribution to our economy and national life of our younger generation. By drawing attention to these achievements over the next 12 months, we will encourage more young people to follow their lead whether in business, science, the arts or in administration.
But the Year of Youth is not, as President Nazarbayev has made clear, just a celebration. It is also intended to focus on where improvements are needed in policy and attitudes to ensure we make the most of the demographic trends. It is a recognition that there remain barriers which prevent too many of our young people from making the most of their potential.
Youth unemployment may have fallen but still remains too high. With an estimated 250,000 young people expected to join the labour market every year, this could be a recipe for frustration and anger unless action is taken. The investment and priority given to education has pushed up standards but there is more to do. We see, too, gaps in the provision in youth services.
These are all areas where action has been signalled over the next 12 months. In particular, measures and additional funds are to be put in place to extend educational opportunities particularly in rural areas and to provide more financial support for young people to continue in college.
More help will be provided for young people to set up their own businesses and learn skills through new and extended programmes. Young people in Kazakhstan, as they do in many other countries, have also drawn attention to the lack of affordable homes. The announcement that 1,000 new apartments are to be built every year to meet this need is a step in the right direction to help young people move to where the opportunities are.
It is a comprehensive package aimed at ensuring all our young people have the skills and support needed for them to make their contribution to Kazakhstan’s future. The Year of Youth is much-needed public recognition that the key to our country’s continued success lies in removing the barriers which might prevent this from happening.