Is apprenticeship the future of Jamaica?
"Jamaica nuh have nothing fi offer we, Miss, we a suffer out yah. Me a go a New York when me graduate."
That was the comment made by a grade-10 student who I mentor at a non-traditional high school. There were around 20 of them and I had asked what they wanted to do in the future. No one wanted to remain in Jamaica. One even smiled as she described a boyfriend abroad who would soon marry her so she could move to Canada.
I was intrigued but, sadly, not surprised. Too many young people feel only hopelessness. They believe that their country of birth will stifle their growth and frustrate them into subpar lives. Those who wish to remain believe that university is their only option, but countless shun it because of either a lack of money or fear of debt. In the end, they have very little to look forward to.
It goes without saying that the bulk of Jamaicans need to function efficiently in order to contribute to the economy. I was flabbergasted when I discovered that only around 32 per cent of students last year passed the five CSEC subjects for tertiary matriculation. That staggeringly low number is a result of many things, including poor parenting, but by mentoring students from various high schools, I realised that many are simply not motivated.
This is, in part, because of the lack of jobs and opportunities, even with a degree.
I mentioned in my previous article that degrees are not always the route to success. This manufactured need for a degree has only turned universities into greedy businesses more interested in making money than the survival of the next generation.
Industry apprenticeships must be a viable option for students. Apprenticeships offer a much more secure future than the gamble of attending university, especially when it comes to getting Mickey Mouse degrees.
Apprenticeships are a way to earn while you learn and to attain valuable experience in your chosen field. Persons work after leaving high school and are usually in the 16-20 age bracket, though some may pursue it at a later stage.
Graduates will not make a lot of money straight away. When they first begin, some are only paid for expenses and food, but the experience gained is unrivalled. Plus, it is cheap labour for employers, so many are willing to provide it. This is a more feasible option than studying for a Mickey Mouse degree with very few job prospects.
Apprenticeships can be pursued in numerous fields and at various levels, including project management and engineering, sales, telecommunications, tourism and hospitality, green energy and health care. It improves job prospects and skill sets and allows individuals to start their own businesses afterwards.
HEART Trust/NTA has an apprentice-ship programme, but this is not enough. Programmes need to be available for the number of high-school graduates who may wish to go down this route.
One of my mentees, a poor student from a single-parent household in the country, mentioned wanting to become a nurse, but exclaimed that she was unsure about the intricacies of the profession.
"I checked out UTech, Miss, but they charging so much money to study it, and nurses don't make much, so how they going to pay that back, Miss?" she asked during one of our career discussions. A look of disappointment was etched on her face. In fact, they all looked dejected.
Nursing assistance would be a fantastic option for persons like her. It is a popular apprenticeship position, especially in the United Kingdom, where there is a shortage of medical personnel. It presents the opportunity to learn without being out of pocket or in debt for at least the next 10 years.
Apart from apprenticeships, there should be easier access to continuing education for adults. For our economy to grow, we, at least, need a population where the majority of adults are able to read and reason at a certain level. Introduce appropriate learning and life skills programmes for them. Make these programmes affordable, or even free if persons are willing to sacrifice one day per week as a volunteer to teach them.
Let us put our young people first. They are the future of our country. We need to look carefully at the extent to which some high-school graduates may be more suitable to earn and learn on apprenticeships rather than on a degree course with poor prospects.