She's making money, he's unemployed
Wignall's WorldSunday, March 04, 2012
Earlier in the day I had cooked minced beef with vegetables and so there we were, in the kitchen — she was fixing a plate of it, with rice.
"It smells good, honey," Chupski said as I began to read her the e-mail from my BlackBerry. A few minutes before I had told her that a young man had e-mailed me seeking advice on a certain matter and I was unsure of what approach I should employ in offering what was being sought.
He was 24 years old, had eight CXCs, including Math, Info Tech, Technical Drawing and Electrical Installation. He had previously worked with a Government organisation and a large private sector financial entity, was laid off two years ago and, at the time he wrote me last Wednesday, his frustrations were very obvious.
"I don't know what else to do," he began. "I'm so fed up with the economic situation in Jamaica and the effect it's having on my life. I have been out of a job for the past two years and I've been unable to gain long-term employment since, despite having sent numerous application letters to potential employers.
"I continued my studies after losing my job; to date I'm eight courses away from completing a bachelor's degree in management studies and I am now penniless. Sometimes I question whether that money would have been best spent otherwise (what good is a degree if I starve to death), especially when I look around and see individuals with "grade three education" who can barely speak patois, let alone English, making millions off making a few phone calls.
"My salary (lack thereof in my case) is ruining my sex life as you once said in a humorous article. I had to move in back with my mother and we know how unappealing that is to the opposite sex. Yes, I have a girlfriend who has been with me through thick and thin and I can tell she's starting to get frustrated. I know this because she has said so and I don't blame her; after all, my mother's settee is really hard on her back. She hardly visits anymore. Her actions suggest she loves me and I love her too but that does not offset the importance of money, especially now that her father is no longer in a position to finance her schooling.
"She goes to........ Teachers' College. Student's Loan Bureau pays her tuition but she has to travel out of the parish daily to get to school.
"I've been thinking about coming to the city, hoping things will be better there in terms of getting a job but I don't have any accommodation, I am fed up, and all I have left is hope."
After reading it, I turned to Chupski. "Go ahead, honey. What advice should I give him?" I said.
"First, he will have to continue his studies by whatever means. If he stops, he will totally lose his girl and that will drive him mad. He has to be active in doing something," she said.
I agreed with her, even though I believe Management Studies is overrated. "He needs a tradable skill," I said. "But with him so close to getting his degree, it makes sense that he rides to the finish and get it over with."
"Honey, you know what I have found out? People need more than formal education. They need 'smarts.' He has to do what just about everyone is doing now — sell something. The problem is, he will need a good Samaritan to give him a start," she said.
After that we began to examine the various ways in which people have been employing their 'smarts' in order to survive in a world where an eight to four job is becoming a rarity.
There is a young woman I know who only has a high school education. In 2007, she rented a small shop and with less than half a barrel of supplies — hair extensions, skin care products, beauty treatment — she hung out her shingle.
In the heart of the recession all she was doing was paying rent, not a lot, with assistance from her husband who was then among the lucky ones to be employed and earning a steady if unspectacular income.
A few weeks ago when I spoke with her she said, "Women cannot rely on men anymore for financial assistance. The men no longer have it. When I started, I was at my shop waiting on customers. Just waiting. I had no money to advertise."
"So, how did you get around it?" I asked.
"I questioned myself. I knew who my customers were but I had to find a way to get them to come to me. Jamaicans like their recreation, especially going to dances and 'blinging out.' So I went to them. At the massage parlours, at the go-go clubs. I even attended a few dances myself in areas that I would normally be scared to go to."
She told me that she had printed some business cards. "Where the girls had fixed 'addresses' I offered them credit. Pay half now, the other half next week. Most of my customers were girls who could earn something on a daily basis — tips — or were weekly paid. I wasn't targeting monthly paid workers."
In time, she said, the customers began streaming in and she earned a reputation for being reliable. I remember asking her a question. "If in the recession your business began to pick up, where did your customers get the money to patronise you?"
"Well, you have to remember that they are mostly women and in that respect, they are much smarter than men. I don't think you need the details."
She told me that in the early days of 2008, there were some weeks that her sales were $2,000 for the entire week while she was paying $16,000 per month for rent plus about $3,000 per month for light and a smaller amount for water.
"Now, on a bad day, I sell about $7,000 to $10,000. On good days, especially when I do deliveries, I can make $40,000 to $50,000! I have even begun to lend my husband money."
I turned back to Chupski. "I really need to give the young man some sensible, workable advice, not pep talk. Help me out, honey."
"Listen," she said, this woman 30 years my junior. "I know a young man who lost his steady job. He now imports school bags and sometimes he smuggles in a few smart phones. At the start of each school term he sells off his stock. He is not rolling in money but he can pay his rent and keep a girl, or should I say girls."
"So, are you telling me to tell the young man to become a smuggler?" I said.
"Honey, I am saying that if he wants to survive and feel like a man again, he has to think outside of looking for a nine to five job. Those jobs are dead-end ones. In fact, many of the nine to five people I know are doing something extra to make more money."
Many times when Jamaicans are travelling to visit their relatives in the US, there are always requests for certain items — white rum, local 'wines', foodstuff.
One woman I know has tapped into this and is marketing Jamaican Dutch pots online! The Jamaican community in America supports her efforts.
What I have found, and males have my sympathy, is that women fare better than men in an economic downturn. In addition, those males with university education and 'middle class' ambitions suffer the most because they are without the 'smarts' to tackle the reality of what it takes to make it in a changing socio-economic environment.
Advice to the young man? You did electrical installation. Any hints of any money-making opportunities there?
A Lawnmower engine powering a bicycle
O'neil 'Fast Car' Reid may not have it in him to be Jamaica's Bill Gates but I would hardly believe that he would be losing any sleep over that.
When he rode up on his modified bicycle, powered by an ordinary lawnmower engine, I was instantly amazed. Too many of our young men have found themselves with too much idle time, so, in addition to smoking too much weed mixed with dangerous tobacco ('grabba'), the rest of their time is spent chasing young women who are similarly unemployed and pretty soon a baby comes and it is usually left up to the young woman and her mother to raise that child.
All too often that child ends up with a substandard education in an F-grade school.
'Fast Car', who is from Pleasant Valley in Red Hills, told me he got the idea for the bike/mower engine about six years ago.
"About one year ago mi start fi fit it up. Mi si di old lawnmower siddung dey an nah do nutten so a just election day last year me finish it an put it pon di road," he said.
"So, it have good power?" I asked. On that, he drew a cord, started it and drove off up a steep incline then back down to where we were originally.
The gas tank holds one litre and he has fitted it with a reserve tank. Against the rear wheel he has fitted a sprocket, almost like the old dynamos of old, to power a small generator. The sprocket is fitted to a spring and its tension can be adjusted or it can be in a 'free' disconnected position when no power is needed.
The headlight has in an LED bulb. The drive has 16 speeds split into two.
O'Neil did not attend any brand-name school, he told me, while showing me how he routed the exhaust through piping. He has also made a muffler for it, his own silencer. Still in his 20s, O'Neil tells me that he has other ideas but he doesn't want to spill them too soon.
"Anyway, mi have a work a go pon now, so later wi buck up," he said as he started the engine and rode off. All eyes followed him as he turned the corner up the hill.
I believe I will be hearing more from him.
What is Petrojam afraid of?
In November of last year I questioned Petrojam's pricing policy after Mr Roger Chang of the Jamaica Solar Energy Association (JSEA) had informed me that he has sought, under the Access to Information Act, details on Petrojam's pricing.
Then I had written, 'Recently, the Jamaica Solar Energy Association sent me the following:
"The 'Fuel & IPP charge' which accounts for about 64 per cent for your JPS bill, is what's called 'pass-through' charges. Nowhere in the All-Island Electricity Licence, 2001 does it speak to the purchase of fuel.
"This means the JPS does not care at what price it buys fuel (HFO or automotive diesel), where it comes from (Petrojam or any other source) or the quality (high sulfur). There is no incentive (profits) or regulation (the OUR) for the JPS to purchase fuel at a cheaper price, therefore no need for the JPS to seek cheaper sources of fuel.
"It is a trade secret, was the response to my request for information under the Access to Information Act for how Petrojam determines the price for fuel it sells to the JPS.
"We don't know how Petrojam arrives at a selling price of fuel to the JPS and we don't know at what price the JPS buys fuel from Petrojam. We only know 'Fuel & IPP' accounts for about 64 per cent of your JPS bill.
"To put that in context: If your JPS bill is about $10,000, $6,400 is Fuel & IPP (IPP is a very small percentage)."
In August when the JSEA requested from Petrojam (under the Access to Information Act) information on the price it sold fuel to JPS, to their surprise, this is what they received as a response.
"The document requested -- Cost of Goods Sold and Value Added Cost to JPS by Petrojam Limited is exempt as its disclosure would prejudice the interest of other parties in the following context: Trade Secret."
So there you have it. The JPS is perceived to be shafting the consumer, and if that is not bad enough, a Government agency, Petrojam, refuses to disclose the price it sells fuel to the JPS when the fuel content on all of our bills is 64 per cent of the total bill!
I had also written, "Minister Mullings, this is scandalous. Please clarify this, Mr Minister," and by the very next day, the minister replied as follows:
'Dear Mark, I have mandated Petrojam to respond to the specific concerns raised by the NDM and raised by you. You will receive this shortly. Cheers.'
The rest, as they say, is history. The response, promised 'shortly', never came.
In any event, how can Petrojam be cagey about its pricing mechanism unless it is in cahoots with central government to bamboozle the citizens of this country who are saddled with JPS?
The answer seems simple enough to me. The more profit Petrojam makes, as Mr Chang points out, the more taxes it pays over to central government.
And, by the way, 'trade secret' usually arises when there is a competitor in the market. Who is competing with Petrojam? No one, as far as I know!
'Trade secret' as an answer as to why Petrojam cannot divulge its pricing structure is nothing more than a slap in the face of a people deemed to be of the 'turd world' type.
Minister Paulwell, we were both on the dance floor at the after-Jazz Festival party in Trelawny. You danced up a storm and so did I. We almost stole the show. We greeted each other and 'lick fist' while we were dancing with our respective ladies.
Can you exercise a similar energy and exuberance in completing what former minister Mullings could not? We need the answers for Petrojam's pricing structure now.
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