Pressure for job seekers – Trinidad Guardian

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.

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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.

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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
op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures

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.

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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.


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