Fatal flaws, Martin
ChrisTufton, Guest Columnist
Gleaner columnist Martin Henry is right to express concern about Jamaica's inability to effectively prepare our youth to adequately qualify for the job market, which has led to too many of them living on the margins of society, 'hustling' for a living, or migrating to other countries when that opportunity exist.
Forty per cent formal youth unemployment, according to Henry, is far too high to generate the hope necessary for the future generations to believe that their prospects for future employment is anything but dim, if they chose to reside here in Jamaica.
Where these opportunities exist, young people need to adequately prepare themselves to fill the needs of a marketplace that is increasingly competitive and requires value in exchange for worker security.
Henry also gave sound advice, in advising graduates, at Morant Bay High School last September, to track the trends in the job market and to go on to qualify themselves to offer value to their employers.
As an employer of labour myself, I often have difficulties finding suitable talent for job openings even with these high unemployment statistics. Undoubtedly, our system of education and training is not adequately preparing our young people for these needs.
Where I have a fundamental disagreement with Henry, as stated in his Gleaner column on Sunday, January 4, 2015, is where he seeks to qualify his concern by criticising the call (by myself and others) to encourage graduates to think entrepreneurial. On this point there are fundamental flaws in Henry's arguments.
First, Henry confuses the call to graduates to think entrepreneurial with the need for them to start a business. The two are not the same. While it is true that a strict definition of entrepreneurship is the capacity and willingness of an individual to develop and manage a business with all its associated risks, entrepreneurial thought and application can be applied by someone who is employed to an organisation to do just that. Companies that stay competitive are usually those that constantly engage in innovation and new and creative ways to improve and enhance their products and service offerings.
This type of innovation has to be driven by people or workers who are not just followers of rules and procedures but who are willing to think through and develop new and improved ways of creating value.
A major challenge with our education system today is that we matriculate students with a mindset to follow procedures and not a mindset to think. We end up creating bureaucrats and not innovators, and as a consequence stifle opportunities for new ideas that can be converted to new products.
My challenge to graduates was to minimise their expectations, having acquired a skill (not just a high school diploma), of Government creating work for them but think more critically of how they can create work for themselves by being good at what they do and learning to cite and take advantage of opportunities.
Encourage entrepreneurial thought
I am prepared to concede that this charge could also mean starting a business on their own, as Henry interpreted. However, it could also mean adding value to an organisation that already exists.
On starting a business of your own, I rebut Henry's assertion that it is bad advice to encourage graduates who have acquired a skill and who may believe they can hone these skills to creating a brand of their own, from attempting to do so. He needs to accept that the spirit of entrepreneurship and risk taking is essential for any modern society that seeks to create development and growth through private enterprise, and it would be bad advice to seek to place an age limit or monetary value on such an endeavour.
The history of successful entrepreneurs is rich with persons who started from humble beginnings with ambitious and creative ideas and went on to be national and global game changers and multimillionaires. Businesses that have been started by high school and college dropouts that are now the Microsofts and Facebooks of today.
Focus on constraints
Henry is again misguided in his assertion that this type of advice is insulting to graduates because of the many environmental constraints in Jamaica today, like the faulty education system and access to financing. Again, while I accept his critique of the Jamaican business climate and education system, this surely should not be a reason to discourage entrepreneurial thought and practice.
Instead, we should be challenging our policymakers and other stakeholders to fix the system to allow creative ideas to contend and new businesses to start up and flourish. Positives developments like modern insolvency laws and secure transaction legislation should be encouraged, but beyond just passing legislation we should encourage greater competition in the banking system and for these institutions to more adequately equip themselves to assess and take risks in the real economy.
I encourage Henry to let us focus our attention on these issues and not use them to discourage entrepreneurial thought and activity.
Chris Tufton is co-executive director of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, an entrepreneur, and a former minister of government. Contact at email@example.com