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No jobs for many bright, young school leavers

Mark Wignall

Sunday, July 29, 2012    

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OUTSIDE of very direct amorous involvement, I am not naturally moved to open expressions of emotion.

It appears that one of my younger brothers is in synch with me. One day sometime in the early 1970s when he was in his teens he attended the movies at Carib Theatre with some of my sisters and their female friends. The movie was called Love Story.

As he told it to me, at one point while watching the film, all of the young women began crying, with some bawling loudly at something which was, at best, merely a theatrical depiction of what could happen in a real-life situation when a deeply loved one dies too early.

According to him, all he could do was sit there and fume in silent disgust. I believe that while the male and female of the human species share much of a basic circuitry, there are essential differences in how the sexes assimilate and respond to situations. That said, oftentimes common areas of circuitry shared by both sexes would, if it did occur in my brother, allow him to feel the pain and the passion as shown on the silver screen and, who knows, maybe he would be seen embracing the females in full empathy with them and bawling his eyes out.

I say all of that in open sympathy with the sentiments expressed in a letter to The Gleaner headlined 'No work for 16-year-olds sending mixed signals'. The piece copped the Letter of the Day for Thursday, July 26. I really felt it for the letter writer.

It begins with, "I am a 16-year-old student from a prominent high school in Clarendon. I am writing this letter because I'm very concerned and confused, and also upset.

"In years gone by, 16-year-olds could work during the summer through the National Youth Service (NYS). This summer, I made my application to the NYS, went through all the processes — and spending money at the same time taking pictures to submit with my application. When I went to check on the status of my application, I was told that Minister Hanna said no 16-year-olds should work as it would be considered child labour.

"This is where my confusion comes in. At 16, I'm not supposed to work; at 16 I'm not supposed to drive; yet at that same 16, I'm free to have a child. Yes, sir, I'm free to have sex because the age of consent is 16 years, therefore, I can have a child. I'm here all summer with nothing to do. I cannot afford to travel so I suppose I should just get active and go around and have sex for the summer."

The letter ends with, "And I also think Minister Hanna made a blunder — a big one too — when she stated that we should not work. Please, it's only to keep us occupied during the summer and to gain exposure to the working world.

"I speak for myself and for other 16-year-olds. We needed this money; it's not a lot, but it certainly would put a dent in our back-to-school expenses."

I certainly do not believe that Minister Lisa Hanna intended that all school children on the long summer break should sit home and stare in their mothers' empty pots. It could never be that she intended that they should hit the streets in a search for the dangers of 'easy money.'

In my teens, in the 1960s, the urbanised centres of Kingston and St Andrew were awash with jobs for young people. From wrapping packages in downtown stores to filing reams of documents in lawyers' offices or in civil service postings, the jobs were there. They didn't pay much, but the cost of living was manageable and, unlike the present times, next week's pay would often run into the pay the week before. Living with one's parents or just with mother had its advantages.

The difference between the times of the past and now are quite significant. In the past a youngster who had just taken 'O' Levels would be employed and trained on the job. Today, 10 passes mean little for a summer job. Employers are now looking for youngsters who can hit the ground running on day one.

Let us take the case of Iyana Vernon.

She loves what she does

At a little over 16 years old, this Immaculate Conception High School student, Iyana, recently sat Information Technology, Mathematics, English Language, English Literature, Geography, History, Biology, Spanish, Social Studies and Visual Arts in CXC.

Iyana was fortunate to secure a half scholarship to Drew University (US$45,000 per annum), but her mother must now struggle to find about US$23,000 per year if she wants her daughter's dream of entering the world of film animation realised.

Having heard of an opening for a graphics designer in a summer post, Iyana arranged for an interview and had it planned for a Friday. According to her, she spent a little less than an hour in the interviewing process.

"I was quite comfortable with the lady who would eventually be my boss," she told me. "We spoke freely and I gave her my portfolio and told her what I could do for the workplace. It is an adjunct of the security ministry called Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP)."

The fact that I had never heard of such a place surprised Iyana. "I thought someone like you would have long known of it. It's been in existence since the early 2000s," she said.

In humility, I was forced to repeat my unawareness of it.

"After the interview I went home and wasn't quite sure that I had the job. The lady said she would contact me. That could mean anything," she told me.

"On Saturday morning I opened my laptop and in examining one of the brochures she had given me, I decided that I was going to 'spruce' it up. By the early evening I had worked on about four designs without embedded texts. I e-mailed them to her. She e-mailed me and told me to report for work on Monday."

Many of our top high schools tend still not to leave their students with a tradable skill at 11th grade or two years after sixth form. Basically the curriculum is designed to satisfy the matriculation requirements for a four-year university Bachelor's degree course.

In Iyana's case, she decided to jump-start the process. "Throughout my prep school years and at Immaculate I harboured the idea of becoming a vet, a doctor, an anthropologist. Along the way," said the confident, well-spoken young lady, "I found my passion in Art. It wasn't that I thought of possibilities; I saw them. Me in film animation or in some highly technologically driven graphic design position."

According to her, she wants to major in Art and do a minor in either anthropology or psychology. "As you have seen from the package I gave you, I have some skills in writing, real creative stuff." Her eyes lit up as only a teenager's can. "I could go into advertising — many areas," she said as her hands and eyes expressed the huge possibilities in her future.

"At home I used the knowledge I gained from Info Tech to learn the basics of design. What I brought to CSJP is not what I was taught on the school curriculum. I taught myself that," she said without a mere hint of a boast.

After I told her that Jamaica is a tough market to crack, she boldly told me that the world was her stomping ground.

Within a week of landing the summer job as graphics designer at CSJP she said her boss told her that she was 'a godsend'.

"I like what I am doing. The organisation reaches out to distressed young people, especially young men who were once mixed up in wrongs. Our organisation intervenes with counselling and mentorship. My specific role is to assist in getting the place more known to the public so ultimately there will be a website and many other things. I am working on a lot of designs all at once."

"How much are they paying you?" I asked. She had been working there for close to two weeks.

She laughed. "You are not going to believe it, but we have never discussed a salary."

For a moment I was shocked then she said, "You really don't understand. I love what I am doing."

I suggested to her that maybe she didn't fully understand the utility value of money. "How is your mother going to meet the cost of finding US$23,000 per year for four years?" That stopped her in her tracks.

"Well, we have spoken about it and the worst-case scenario is I don't take up the scholarship, go to sixth form and see what happens from there."

I couldn't help but compare both cases. A young 16-year-old wanting to work and probably unsure as to the shifting paradigms in the workplace. Years ago, young people would be in the hands of on-the-job trainers for months, but now that aspect is minimal.

In Iyana's case, she did not take for granted the privilege she had of attending Immaculate. Instead, in her own time she quietly pursued her passion and, in some small measure it has paid off.

"I hope things work out so that you can attend Drew," I said.

"I hope so too," she said.

Our love for our athletes is brimming over

IN response to my piece last Thursday, 'Go Bolt, Blake, Shelly-Ann, VC' quite a few readers privately filled my inbox with their own sentiments.

A female reader went overboard in bigging me up. "Thank you for your Olympian standards in communication. Your passion and commitment to truth just leap off the page. Thanks again," she wrote.

A male reader decided to send me back to the classroom. "Dear Mr Wignal, in your column today you note that, "if VC finds back her form, I am expecting at very least a silver medal....".

"Firstly, VCB is in form, her season's best is 10.82, which is no mean feat. You need to worry about Sherone and Kerron who have not been performing up to par and how they may affect the relay's chances of a gold. Moreover, her name is VCB, in case you haven't noticed."

Thank you, reader.

A loyal male reader was in very obvious high spirits. "Good morning to you and your family, and loved ones. I hope you are all well. I truly enjoyed your 26 July, Observer column. I can hardly wait for the Olympics. I have a good vibe, that the Jamaican Olympians will do very, very well. A we rule!!! Indeed, for the month of August, let us not think of our corrupt, inept politicians, and our worthless criminals. Let us embrace the sweet Olympic air."

I am with you on this, sir.

Another loyal male reader wrote, "Couldn't help but note your comments today. The freedoms we have in Jamaica, to spit on the street, urinate against light poles, drive our cars like a nation of illiterates, among many other things, are sadly attractive to us.

"These actions do not result from 'freedoms', but rather from breaking laws and not getting caught or convicted/punished. Let's face it, from murder right down, Jamaica has a serious record of breaking laws and getting away with it."

The reader was, of course, right. I responded. "My friend, any way you slice it or dice it, if the laws of the land remain unpoliced and unenforced, it translates to giving us 'freedoms' that, in a viable society, we would not otherwise have. Of course, you and I are at one on more than the idea that these 'freedoms' reduce us as a people."

Finally, a young woman wrote and added comedy to the mix. "Your article made me laugh. I must agree with you on VC, she seems to have changed a bit since 2008. Like she is not too into us but she is my wife and though I love Shelly-Ann I would really love for VC to win the 200m.

"As for Bolt, now he's my husband and I need him to win gold in all three races. So let the games begin, and I wish you a wonderful Olympics."

observemark@gmail.com

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