Entrepreneurial thinking critical to economic success
Educational professional Dr Renee Rattray says a workforce that takes an entrepreneurial approach to its performance will be critical to the success of the country's new economic paradigm.
Rattray who is Programme Manager at the Mutual Building Societies Foundation (MBSF) established by Jamaica National and Victoria Mutual said if the country is to become one of the world's logistics hubs, then it will need a workforce that thinks like entrepreneurs.
"Therefore, the success in the development of our Logistics Hub will be determined by our ability to identify opportunities and create and provide the solutions, to assure investors that they wil not have to go elsewhere to find skills," the educator said. "Our education sector must place even greater emphasis on innovation, so that we are not left behind whether here in Jamaica or in the global sphere."
Pointing to the Ministry of Education's increased push for entrepreneurism in schools and her organisation's own thrust under the $100 million Centres of Excellence programme, Dr Rattray said it is critical for educators and students to broaden their thinking.
"Sometimes our schools operate as if they were factories in which our students are placed on conveyor belts...and they go through the system routinely, prepared and encouraged to pursue traditional careers as lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers and bankers," Rattray said.
She further noted that this cannot be the approach in these times.
"What we need are young people who are already thinking about the opportunities they can create instead of joining a line of job seekers," she argued, adding that its an opportunity for us to become a 'Silicon Valley' in the Caribbean."
Referencing the Young Entrepreneurs "I am the Change" initiative, a component of the Centres of Excellence programme, which was implemented in partnership with Digicel Foundation, Rattray said the training has been crucial to student preparedness.
The two-year initiative, which was implemented by the Kimala Bennett-operated The Business Lab, on behalf of the sponsors, led to the development of successful student operated businesses in the six non-traditional high schools under the Centre of Excellence programme and resulted in improved academic outcomes. In the first year, students experienced an eight percent increase in performance and year two improved their academic performance by seven percent.
Some 180 students across the six high schools: McGrath in St Catherine; Porus and Mile Gully in Manchester; Godfrey Stewart in Westmoreland; Green Pond in St James and Seaforth in St Thomas, participated.
"By emphasising and providing resources for students to develop business acumen and IT skills, they not only created ideas, but established real businesses and developed IT solutions to solve several issues that pose challenges to students, and their communities," Bennett said. The business operations in the schools ranged from a weekly newspaper operation to eateries and locker rental services.
"In addition to improved academic performance," Bennett notes that, "the students' leadership abilities improved and their conduct and deportment were also enhanced, which was a key objective of the Centres of Excellence programme."
This observation was evidenced in the evaluation on the Centres of Excellence programme by the project evaluators Harmonious Solutions which indicated the programme, boosted the morale of students and provided them with critical lessons in leadership.
"We wanted students to approach life not as a daunting challenge; but, more like a solvable puzzle, which can be deciphered using the power of ideas," Bennett reflected. "Therefore, the objective was to foster entrepreneurship through distinct focus on the power of innovation and ideas."
"Discipline improved among the students engaged in the programme and they became attuned to the need to take responsibility for their actions. We have seen an overall alteration in the mindset of the students who participated," Rattray said.
Pointing to the high unemployment rate among young people in the country, Rattray said education cannot be pursued within the traditional framework, when youth unemployment continues to hover in the region of 35 percent among young people 20-24 years, according to data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica.
"Innovation must be at the centre of the leadership we seek to develop in these times; and, given our current financial climate, there is demand for this approach to education," the MBSF programme manager affirmed.
"We need to recognise that we are living in an era, which requires us to create the kind of environment that gives our students the flexibility to think beyond the traditional. And, that does not mean that a young person cannot aspire to become a lawyer; but that person has to be, at the end of the day, adaptable to and able to grasp opportunities."
"If we fail to appreciate this approach to education, then we cannot expect to achieve the Vision 2030 development goals we have set for ourselves as a country," Rattray suggests.