Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
High-achieving master's degree holder struggles to find work
JEF president tells job hunters to band together, form own businesses
Thirty-one-year-old Kanika Tomlinson did all the right things. A consistent high achiever, she pursued her dreams to the highest level, mastering her field.
Yet, despite having a master's degree in law, specialising in international trade, development and business law from the University of Sydney, for the past three years she says she has been unable to get a job in her area of expertise and training.
"It has been very frustrating because when I know I am qualified to do something and I know that my country needs this area of speciality and no one will employ me, it is so frustrating," she declared.
"For at least two job interviews, I have been told that I am overqualified, so they won't even shortlist me for an interview. They won't even try to negotiate with me."
She added: "I am angry and frustrated and sometimes I wonder if it was a waste of time and money to get my master's and now I can't even use it. It is even more depressing when I see I have classmates in other countries who have gotten jobs in their field."
Several qualified young persons have expressed the same frustration, many to the point of depression and hopelessness. Each year, more and more youths are leaving school with no jobs to turn to.
The Statistical Institute of Jamaica has revealed that for the first quarter of the year, the overall unemployment rate was at 14.3 per cent, compared to 12.3 per cent last year and 12.4 per cent in 2010.
However, when broken down by age, the youth had the highest unemployment rate. Among the age group 20-24, the figure was 31.4 per cent, compared to 25.2 per cent last year and 29.8 per cent in 2010. Among the age group 25-34, the figure was 16.2 per cent, compared to 13.2 last year and the year before.
"They are selling an idea that is not real because they are telling us to go out and get ourselves qualified and educated and yet after we've done it, we still can't secure a job. So I think they need to do research into what jobs are available before they sell a wholesale package to the youth," said Kanika, who also has friends in a similar position.
Her higher education began with a first degree in international relations and political science and a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of the West Indies. She later went to Norman Manley Law School to practise law and worked for two and a half years before heading overseas for her master's.
Returning to Jamaica in 2009 highly qualified, full of confidence and hope, she was prepared to make her mark in her area of expertise.
"I have tried to get jobs specifically in the government ministries and agencies that deal with international trade and development, but nothing. I did manage to get a job for six months in 2010, but nothing after that," she stated.
Still paying off outstanding tuition, Kanika is now forced to do whatever it takes to survive, working on the occasional cases that may come her way.
"Jamaica is just not offering me any options to use my trade, and that is very sad because my interest is in developing my nation. But I can't even help my own country because they won't employ me," she shared.
"Family support has been very great because without that I would probably be on the street. They helped me to get through the depression I was going through."
Concentrate on the positive
The young lady added: "I know that if I put everything on the plate, I will go crazy, so I just have to concentrate on the positive and the hope that I will soon get a job in my field. I just have to keep telling myself that one day, one day, I will meet that mark."
Wayne Chen, president of the Jamaica Employers' Federation, said there is an increasing concern regarding the high level of unemployment among youth.
"There is no doubt that the youth unemployment rate in Jamaica is very high," said Chen.
"We will always be concerned with unemployment, but we are particularly concerned with youth unemployment because it tends to create a sense of hopelessness among new entrants in the economy."
Chen said he was aware that this problem was a by-product of the overall economic malaise, but said there were some structural weaknesses, particularly in the areas of training and education.
"There are too many school leavers ill-equipped to look about their economic sustenance," he noted.
"There is also a structural issue of the misalignment of our educational system with the demands of the job market. I have no doubt about the fact that the formal educational system at all levels is failing to properly equip our young people for the demands of a globally competitive workforce."
Chen urged young persons who are finding a challenge in getting jobs in the formal job market to band together, share their skills, knowledge and expertise, and form their own enterprises and access funds from the many agencies out there.
"I also urge the agencies that are charged with helping small businesses to help more young people turn ideas and energies into bankable business plans," he stated.
"Young persons just need to start doing something, get creative and think outside the box rather than sit around waiting for something to happen."
He added: "They must study the market, see what other opportunities there are and branch into areas you never thought about before. Young people have to now start developing that entrepreneurial skill to create enterprises of their own."