Move away from the focus on 'subjects'

Friday, October 05, 2018

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Dear Editor,

In Jamaica we have placed academic achievement as the pinnacle of success at the expense of experiential learning and, in effect, doomed a significant portion of our population to poverty and social stagnation.

When we talk about the productivity of the Jamaican worker, there is always a comparison between the productivity of local workers versus when they migrate and work in the developed world. The common narrative is that Jamaican workers work harder because the jobs are better and they pay more than jobs of the same nature.

But I would submit that there are even more impactful differences between the labour markets of the global north and Jamaica. One of the most fundamental is the dependence on paper qualifications by employers in the labour market. In the US, for instance, according to data from the Department of Labour in 2016, 28 per cent of entry-level jobs did not require formal education credentials and 36 per cent required a high school diploma or equivalent. In these economies unemployment levels are low and currently stand at 3.9 per cent.

In Jamaica, however, employers that require lower-skilled labour seem to have remained wedded to the attainment of “subjects” as a prerequisite for someone stepping into an interview. This practice has had two major effects.

It bars thousands in the labour force whose futures were blighted by decades of failure of the education system and are now in their mid-lives and are unable to access employment opportunities.

Some would argue that the people who leave school with qualifications should try and sit these exams, but it costs money to go to classes, pay exam fees, and sustain yourself while struggling to find a decent job. It is a frustrating Catch-22.

Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid, in August, suggested that a national school-leaving certificate would be implemented as the minimum requirement for entry-level jobs. While this solves some problems, it doesn't solve most of the current ones faced by those who fall in the 9.60 per cent unemployment rate.

Employers in the food service delivery, housekeeping among other industries should focus more on experiential learning and apprenticeship rather than “subjects”; this is something that can be done without waiting on a new exam to be implemented.

It's important that we are fair to our people and give them chances to better themselves. In fact, we have seen where this happens at the highest levels, with ministers being given portfolios with no previous experiment, or an executive at Petrojam given a portfolio that requires a master's degree but given a chance without a first degree in the bag.

It is time the private sector assesses how it recruits and invests in its human capital. Otherwise we will continue to have chronic levels of unemployment and low economic growth.

Kevonne Martin

Project Manager,

Equality Youth Jamaica

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