What is a National Youth Service?

Focus, Normal

The National, Thursday May 14th, 2015

 By Dr Michael Unage


Currently, the O’Neill Government sees youth issues as a matter of priority in which the Alotau Accord clearly stated that the Government will fully fund the National Youth Service. 

The Prime Minister has had crucial discussions with his counterparts in Israel, Indonesia, and Australia regarding the viability and implementation of the National Youth Service in Papua New Guinea.

However, it is imperative that respective agencies responsible for the implementation of the National Youth Service should come together to discuss the way forward. 

The one agency that should be the main driver in the implementation of the National Youth Service is the newly established National Youth Development Authority. 

People and organisations dealing with young people have consistently affirmed that the law and order problems in the country will be greatly reduced, if government and its agencies seriously attend to the plight of young people. 

Currently, there is lack of constructive and consistent implementation strategies in place to address the rising problems either caused or faced by young people. 

The rise in crime, to a great extent, is caused by the young frustrated people, who feel that the Government and society are doing very little to help them in finding meaningful lives.

The National Youth Service should be regarded as a specific intervention strategy to mitigate the plight of young people, and it should be given the utmost attention.


The concept of National Youth Service

With all the discussions and negotiations taking place regarding the National Youth Service, the concept must be properly understood. 

Thus, it is proper to review the concept and define the National Youth Service in order to get a clear picture.

Though there are many definitions given to the National Youth Service, the International Association for National Youth Service (IANYS) defines it as “an organised activity in which young people serve others and the environment in ways that contribute positively to society. Major areas of service are health, education, environmental conservation and care for the very old and the very young”. 

Countries initiate the National Youth Service for varied reasons, including delivering social and environmental services, alleviating youth unemployment, providing alternatives to required military service, experientially complementing classroom education, and engaging youth in nation-building.

The IANYS stated that the common objectives of the National Youth Service in many countries are: 

  • To inculcate a culture of service by supporting youth to participate constructively in nation-building;
  • to inculcate in young people an understanding of their role in the promotion of civic awareness and national reconstruction;
  • to develop the skills, knowledge and ability of young people to enable them to make the transition to adulthood;
  • to improve youth employability through opportunities for work experience, skills development and support to gain access to economic and further learning opportunities, and,
  • To harness the nation’s untapped human resource and provide a vehicle for enhancing the delivery of the country’s development objectives especially to disadvantaged communities.

The outcomes of the National Youth Services depend on the goals for which programmes are designed. 

Benefits range from work experience, career exploration, increased self-esteem, increased awareness of the needs of others, acquisition of new skills, good work habits, decision-making ability, social maturity, and a new understanding on human relations. It is found that the National Youth Service has evolved in different contexts informed by the needs and conditions of individual countries.  

However, these four broad categories are found globally. These are:


A: Civic responsibility

Falling into this category are countries that have achieved affluence and through the youth service encourage young people to contribute to their own society or others societies in need. Countries such as the United States  have  entities like Civilian Conservation Corps, Peace Corps, Volunteer in Service to America, AmeriCorps. 

The United Kingdom  include services such as Voluntary Service Overseas and Millennium Volunteers. Canada has Canada World Youth. 

B: Developing a common identity

Where there is a strong need to develop a national identity or a need to overcome a difficult past, countries have found that the National Youth Service can become a vehicle for consciousness transformation. 

Typical examples in this category are: China (Youth Service in China); Canada (Katimavik); Nigeria (National Youth Service Corps; and Germany (Zivildienst).


C: Recovery and rehabilitation

Recovering from either a civil war or war of liberation and therefore struggling with severe economic or environmental crisis, countries have, through the National Youth Service, mobilised the resources to rehabilitate and restore. Zimbabwe and India fall into this category.

D: Nation-building

In countries where significant human resources are already mobilised through mandatory military service, the energies of young people have been harnessed to help with nation-building initiatives. 

In this instance countries such as Germany have found that National Youth Service can be put to non-military endeavour.


Situation of youths in PNG

After having a fair bit of understanding of the National Youth Service on the global context, what does it say about the PNG context? 

The implementation of National Youth Service differs from country to country, and it all depends on the needs and situations of each country. For countries where conflicts and national security are of significant concern, more strenuous and mandatory military aspects of the National Youth Service are applied. For instance, Israel comes into this category. 

Whereas countries that have less conflict, a more social and economic emphasis are given. 

While others countries would go for a hybrid of both the military and socio-economic concerns in developing their National Youth Service programmes.

The critical issue here is that, whether one opts for a specific military or civilian emphasis, one first of all needs to understand the nature and situation of the young people in the country. 

A quick problem analysis is required, because the problems of young people in PNG are many. Only few need highlighting.

First, PNG has a high population of unengaged youths; many of them are unemployed and doing nothing, and waiting for opportunities to emerge. 

The critical question the Government and its agencies need to ask is: How do we utilise this massive labour force to engage in something more productive? 

How do we export this labour supply that the nation has in young people? 

In this respect, priority should be given to engage youths in order for them to find purposeful lives, where their energies can be converted into production. 

The National Youth Service should pursue this to resolve this massive challenge of disengaged youths of PNG. Following from the first challenge of massive youth disengagement, is the issue of lack of knowledge and skills development, and the lack of educational opportunities for young people. 

Spaces in institutions of higher learning and lack of Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) really make our young population ignorant and unskilled. 

The negative implication of having a big population uneducated and unskilled will spell disaster for this nation. The National Youth Service should give considerable attention to this issue.

Third, given the diversity of PNG, and the composition of many tribes and languages, people feel more affiliated to their tribe and clan than their loyalty to the state. 

Though the nation has progressed as an independent country for almost 40 years, loyalty and commitment to the state is slow in coming. 

This concept is a concern for our young people, who are very divided by loyalties and interests rather than serving a common purpose and interest.  This can pose a great danger to national security.

After having mentioned the three most critical issues of young people, the strategy for a National Youth Service should be built around these three areas of concern. 

Though there are still many issues to be included, the three should serve to provide the broad categories in which to design a National Youth Service programme or policy.

The first issue the National Youth Service should consider is the idea of developing our youths to be engaged in finding some form of economic activity, so that they can be engaged in some income earning activity, and to contribute to the nation’s wealth. 

Employment creation is another area to pursue by involving the private sector, and for the Government to engage in a major infrastructure and construction work that our young people should engage in the nation’s infrastructure development.

Training, skilling, and attitude development of our young people should be the second important area to look at. 

We need to provide the opportunity for our young people to be skilled and educated by building more schools and institutions of learning, but the curriculum should be tailored to the skills demand of the workplace.

Third, we should build a massive awareness of loyalty and respect for the state, the nation and the country. 

Young people now tend to have no respect for authority in the family, the community, and the country. 

We need to move young people away from their little corner to see the big picture. 

Young people should be trained to promote nationalism, show loyalty, be respectful, serve others, and be disciplined. These three common issues should be given attention, and should form the basis for the National Youth Service in PNG.



  • Dr. Michael Unage is from the Gapromas Problem Management Services and consults for a few organisations of government, including the National Youth Development Authority.