With approximately 10,000 university graduates seeking employment yearly, local recruitment agencies want more to be done to assist people who are searching for jobs.
So said former science, technology and tertiary education minister Fazal Karim who claims Government’s efforts to assist the unemployed are inadequate. He is calling for more aggressive efforts to be made through the On-The-Job Training (OJT) Programme to support tertiary level graduates in their efforts to enter the job market.
Karim, who was the line minister for the OJT programme between 2010 and 2015, estimated that more than 5,000 applicants were currently awaiting placement.
He said feedback should be used to determine areas with critical shortages existed to guide tertiary curricula on the professional fields that need to be urgently filled.
According to the former minister, the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) turned out 4,000 graduates a year, while the University of T&T (UTT) produced about 2,500 annually and the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts (Costaatt) about 1,200.
Add to these the numbers graduating from the National Energy Skills Centre (NESC), University of the Southern Caribbean (USC), Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme (YTEPP) and Metal Industries Company Ltd (MIC) and it could be “very close to 10,000 persons who will graduate and be seeking jobs in our country yearly,” he said.
Karim, who contended that the official unemployment figures did not reflect what was truly taking place, said the situation was further compounded by retrenched workers seeking employment via the OJT Programme and registering with recruitment agencies for jobs.
He said the OJT Programme was oversubscribed and had not been responsive to the needs of the unemployed. He said at the time he left office in 2015, $374 million had been set aside for the OJT Programme. However, a 2015 online report claims that the programme racked up a bill of $217 million in 2010.
Under the terms of the programme which began in 2002, Government is supposed to reimburse half of the approved stipends paid to students by participating companies.
In August 2010, Government temporarily halted the programme when a $12 million deficit in its budgetary allocation was discovered. In February 2011, Karim reported an overpayment of $2.6 million to OJT trainees and by June 2013 an additional $20 million was allocated to the programme to fund 3,000 more trainees.
Six months later, Karim announced an increase in stipends—the first since 2009—which added $33 million more to the programme which was budgeted at $274 million in 2014. At the time, 8,000 participating students received increases of between $500 and $1,200 a month.
Karim now claims the appointment of trainees is not being done in a synchronised manner to match the applicant’s educational achievements with labour market requirements.
“If we allow these young persons whom we have invested millions and millions of dollars through GATE to go without having purposefully driven lives, many of them will fall by the wayside and will be inclined to be encouraged into anti-social tendencies because of the fact that theirs will be idle hands,” he warned
“Involuntarily exporting our talent to other countries.”
The former minister said greater investments should be made in agriculture, information technology and vocational subjects such as construction, creative arts and design and computer science.
OJT’s Acting Director Patrina Cupid, who was asked to comment on the issues raised by Karim, has not yet responded.
Fluctuating job market
Shinelle Padmore, General Manager, Caribbean Resourcing Solutions Ltd (CRSL), said statistics from last year showed that unemployment rates had slowed as job-seekers were adjusting their expectations in line with available employment opportunities.
CRSL is a specialist technical agency which primarily focuses job placements in the ICT and oil and gas sectors and Padmore said there has been a continuous shift from long-term permanent positions in the energy sector. Contract work is now more common and there have been changes in salaries.
“There’s a glut on the market of people doing general engineering. mechanical, electrical and process engineers. There are a lot of you all so it is nothing special. What we need more of is people who have expertise in data analytics, software development, transformation of digital economies, etc.” she said.
“My suggestion to anybody looking to study is to focus on specialisation.”
Padmore said the agency had an influx of retrenched workers following the closure of Petrotrin last year and market trends show that IT is the “new norm.”
“People should probably adjust their expectations, expect disruptions, expect information technology to really take flight and prepare themselves for now and between 2022 to maybe retrain themselves in skills and areas never before explored that make full use of the digital movement that is coming and will hit Trinidad and Tobago,” she advised.
Regency Recruitment and Resources Limited specialises mainly in placing people in support positions such as administrative assistants, finance and clerical clerks, customer service representatives, and warehouse attendants.
CEO Lara Quentrall-Thomas while there had been a decline in the energy sector jobs, the agency had seen “some growth in financial services and ICT.”
She said for applicants with Bachelors and even Masters degrees, their experience ranged from being told they were over-qualified for the job or turning down positions because they felt “that is not why we did a degree.”
She said: “Some rather not work than do work they consider beneath them. My advice to job-seekers who fall into that category is you have to be humble. You have to be willing, very often, to do what is available until such time what you truly want to do, comes along.”
Noting that the culture in T&T was for families to push their children to become lawyers, doctors or engineers, Quentrall-Thomas said: “What we really desperately need are people in retail management, customer service, sales, marketing, food and beverage, and hospitality. There are jobs in those fields but people don’t want to do them because people don’t think they are glamorous.”
Shift and night work is available but these areas were not attracting much attention.
“There needs to be a proper study done, not about where the gaps are now but where the gaps will be in the next five and ten years, so we can begin to train people into those jobs,” Quentrall-Thomas said.
OJT trainee urges: Review
Amanda Gayah, 26, of Debe, who enrolled in the OJT Programme in February 2017, said her rude awakening came four years after she graduated from UWI with a degree in Communication Studies when she was told she had to wait eight to nine months to find out whether she would get a placement.
She was eventually contacted last December and offered a two-year contract as a communications officer at a south-based statutory body.
Gayah said she was grateful for the chance to practice what she had studied but called for a review of the programme and the role of placement officers who are supposed to check on trainees and document the challenges they faced in the respective posts.
She said many trainees had not been visited in months and she knew of at least one trainee who had been placed in a position where he had no desk, chair, or computer.
“I thought as soon as I came out and graduated in 2017, I would send out resumes and somebody would hire me,” Gayah said.
She admitted that she was dismayed when it was pointed out that she had no work experience.
“How am I supposed to get experience if nobody is willing to give it to me?” Gayah.
Job hunting proved to be a costly undertaking, forcing her to work as a salesclerk for $150 a day. When she took that position, she was told the employer would not be paying NIS on her behalf and she would not be paid for the days she did not work, a situation which she felt was unfair to someone who had studied so hard.
“It is a reality which a lot of people are facing right now,” she said.
Gayah added: “We need to go back to the education system. We need to inform people of the different areas of study because right now everybody wants to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. I think we need to introduce reforms and it must start in secondary school before moving to the tertiary level.”
She said she was aware of university graduates who turned down menial or low-paying jobs and commented: “A lot of graduates need a reality check because you cannot expect to come out of university and just expect a high position with high pay. You need some kind of experience before you can get that kind of pay.
“I have been interacting with a lot of young people right now and they do not have any humility at all. They feel entitled and that is a problem.”
Nothing was wrong with accepting jobs for which one is over-qualified, she said, as they will add to work experience and is an opportunity to earn an honest dollar.