Columns

Are we teaching learning skills?

James Moss-Solomon

Sunday, September 09, 2012    

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Recently I listened to a very interesting conversation with Trevor Munroe and Gladstone Wilson and their guests on Jamaica Speaks. Much of the discussion centred on the preparation for and the existing conditions in the job markets and also about the policies for the future.

One resounding theme was the need to prepare students for the working world as either employees or entrepreneurs.

The conversation referenced the job offers in the newspapers, most of them requiring specific skills and experience that are not taught in schools or universities. We therefore need to be realistic about telling students the combinations of knowledge that are important for their success.

When I "arrived" with a business degree I did not know anything about the attributes and sensitivities of mackerel, corned beef, flour or rice other than how to consume them in large quantities. GraceKennedy made good profits out of all these items and they paid our salaries.

Thus began a long period of apprenticeship that eventually gave me skills that I needed to progress in management. In hindsight, the colourful language of my "instructors" hastened my learning process with no hard feelings on my part. I will be forever grateful to those persons who took an interest in me and schooled me.

Today, many managers expect to find "instant soup" even as they deplore the state of education in Jamaica. They expect impossible things from recent graduates, and all fall prey to the instant-success syndrome that suffocates learning and training. We fail to train successors and then grumble about our own stagnation.

As quickly as we employ young people we write them off because they don't arrive "oven ready" from university. This works moderately well in a very limited way in the financial industries until they find themselves as specific technocrats in "clerical" positions, but not so in industry and manufacturing where, of necessity, experience takes time.

We are judged and paid by last quarter's profits and so our sights are divided between the past and present, and no one has the guts to look at the future. It is a recipe for inertia. Thus we have no real path forward and continue rowing even if the ship is sinking and our course points down towards the bottom of the sea. We survive and grab all we can and then migrate. This does not describe a sustainable business strategy.

Then we subscribe to the "Granny strategy", which simply means becoming a doctor or lawyer even at the cost of being very mediocre. "Granny" would not have a dropout like Bill Gates in her house and I can hear her saying "My wutless grandson drop out a UWI and gone fix people computer like some old mechanic boy after we sacrifice fi send him a good school. If mi was little younger mi kill him wid lick. A whoa".

This attitude acts against many scientific opportunities except for doctors, and continues to classify many needed skills as "blue collar". In a world of scientific discovery, innovation, and copyright, we bemoan the trend of today's students to avoid mathematics, physics, Chemistry, and Biology, or to live in a global village without an appreciation of geography and history.

Family businesses continue to decline and even fail in the context of greater worldwide opportunities. The words of Usain Bolt are "Jamaica to the world", not "Jamaica is the world". Like the economy, we must also plan to expand or die, and I hate considering unnecessary death as a viable option. The trap is so obvious, and if lower animals can detect and avoid traps, then why can't we?

So managers shirk their duties regarding developing and leading staff, and refer motivational issues to the HR department that they have already starved of resources necessary for long-term development in favour of the short-term quarterly profits that are not due to growth but cut valuable muscle as we lay off employees.

Again, we throw overboard many persons who can row, and preserve the few that demand the spoils. All this while saying that people are our most valuable assets.

So we seek employees from outside rather than train our own and they bring every bad habit that they have learned from previous employers, disrupting the internal team environment with their poor habits.

This is really like adopting Frankenstein when you know that he cannot fit in your household environment, especially as he was recommended by Count Dracula.

So if we think that bad choices in education are not impacting our lives every day, check the reasons that make us live in terror. The gunman is not stupid, and his IQ is probably higher than ours, but he may not be able to read and as a result society has ostracised him and now faces the terror of a mind totally wasted by lack of meaningful legal alternatives.

Jamaica needs to take a decision at this time to find effective ways of using the bright minds that we have, instead of forcing them towards being lotto scammers or drug dealers, the operative word being 'decision'. Our mindsets need radical overhauling with attention being paid to what makes us able to learn more things in a rapidly changing world.

The love of knowledge and the growth in experience can be taught, but are often pushed aside in order to learn how to pass exams by repetition, so much so that real expertise cannot become focused on problem-solving and innovation. Yes, a change has got to come, so let's keep up the pressure. It could be our last resort.

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