Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Academic excellence leads to unemployment in Jamaica

Published:Friday | August 15, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Aubyn Hill,  Financial Gleaner Columnist

FROM TIME to time, I am privileged to interview senior executives for various companies.

Occasionally, and exceptionally, I get involved in the interviewing process of a junior executive.

This past week, I participated in two interviews that left me pained for the painful and palpable lack of useful employment available in Jamaica to young school leavers and qualified, experienced and seasoned middle managers.

The first case was that of a bright young man who attended one of our top - some would say the best - high school in the capital city of Kingston. He earned seven Grade 1 and one Grade 2 passes at the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams in 2008.

In the next two years, he managed eight Grade 1 and two Grade 2 passes in the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE).

He didn't stop there. This smart young fellow went on to the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and, after the three-year programme, earned a BSc degree in banking and finance with upper second-class honours. That was in the spring of 2013.

He has suffered the indignity of unemployment, the possible debilitating self-doubts about self-worth, and at times must have wondered what is the purpose of living in Jamaica where, for over a year, a young person who has worked as hard as he could not find a starting job.

He dressed well for the interview, spoke well and was clearly bright, however, one had to coax him to find the residue of self-confidence that was left after the disappointment of no-interviews, or rejections - and watch his friends suffer the same fate.

BUSINESS SHRINKAGE

The other interviewee is in her late thirties and has about 17 years' experience in our local financial sector, with about 15 of those at one of our premier firms in that sector.

She was laid off about two years ago when that premier firm decided on an unpublicised cutback of a swathe of middle managers.

She is very qualified as a chartered accountant with a first-class honours degree in accounting from UWI, and she earned an MBA from the University of London.

Her experience spans accounting, operations and is well-seasoned with a bunch of IT skills and experiences. But it is hard for her to keep a job when businesses keep shrinking because their customers have no cash to generate demand for products and services, and there is no economic growth to encourage other firms to hire even capable and experienced, and available executives.

There may be some who rejoice at the recent report by Statin that the unemployment rate has fallen, but any such rejoicing should be very tempered.

The hard, and sad, reality is that Statin uses an international standard which accepts that a person is employed if he or she works for a minimum of one hour a week. When that very low threshold is understood to be the standard, the rejoicing peters out fast.

Our Jamaican reality is that a few thousand JEEP jobs could cancel out the loss of much better-paying jobs and, if enough JEEP-type work is created, our employment figures will be raised and the unemployment ones will fall. In the meantime, salaried employees are being laid off and, in the process, buying power in the economy shrinks, demand continues to fall or remains weak and investors go slow or stop investing.

PAINFUL ECONOMIC TRANSITION

The two cases I cited - from finding a beginning job to having to face job losses at mid-career because of business downsizings - are typical and applies to many and growing numbers in our economy.

People simply cannot find jobs.

We should not fool ourselves that it is only those who lose their work or cannot find a first job who are feeling job-related, no-salary pain. There is open talk and widespread knowledge that many employed in the government service, apart from suffering under a wage cap since 2009 - which means about an effective 45 per cent wage cut, given the depreciation of the Jamaican dollar - have also been suffering from delayed payment of their depreciated salaries.

Many in the private sector have had to manage with salaries that have had to be cut, sometimes drastically, in order for their employers to make radical downward adjustments in their operating costs to match similarly precipitous drops in revenues.

These business persons know there is so little cash in the marketplace and demand has all but dried up.

Given the go-go economic practices of the 1990s and the relatively slow adjustment responses we in Jamaica made to the economic recession starting in 2007-08, some classical economists may well argue that the wrenching changes and downward pressure on salaries we notice in the labour market is long overdue, and is necessary if Jamaican labour is going to have any chance of being competitive in a globalised market.

That argument may be very true on a macro level. However, when a bright young man - and many other young people like him - with the kind of CXC, CAPE and university degree I described above cannot find employment for a year, those who put themselves forward and won elections based on finding jobs for the unemployed and the adoption of policies that will foster and nurture economic growth, have a lot to answer to qualified, needy and frustrated unemployed Jamaicans.

Aubyn Hill is CEO of Corporate Strategies and chairman of the Opposition Leader's Economic Advisory Council.Email: writerhill@gmail.comTwitter: @HillAubynFacebook: facebook.com/Corporate.Strategies