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Are we prepared for the return of our graduates?

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30.JUN.06

It’s graduation time again, and congratulations are in order for our graduates at all levels. Graduation time also means job hunting time, and the Government as well as the private sector can expect to receive dozens of applications from school leavers as well as university graduates.

The Education Revolution has made it possible for our young people to pursue tertiary level education in unprecedented numbers at universities all over the world. No one who has even the slightest interest in the development of our country could ever fault this move by Government to make access to university education dependent more on academic achievement rather than financial means.{{more}}

This year, 132 graduates who received some form of assistance from the Government are due to return from colleges and universities. This number does not include those persons who pursued studies independent of any assistance from the government.

According to information obtained, these 132 graduates have received qualifications ranging from certificates to bachelors and masters degrees, as well as medical degrees. 72 of the returning nationals are government officers who were on study leave, the other 60 are either from the private sector or youngsters who will be seeking their first job.

While we welcome home our University graduates, we wonder just how many of them will be successful in their quest to find gainful employment. The 72 government officers will be reabsorbed into the Government service, but many of the others will find it quite a challenge to find a job, as there are members of the graduating class of 2005 who are still unemployed.

The questions must be asked, have we done the necessary reorganization in our society to make it possible to absorb these graduates, and how much consideration did the graduates give to the needs of our developing country when they chose their area of study?

It has been said that we are educating our people not only for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but also for export so that we can benefit from remittances. But how much do we really benefit? An IMF study of emigration from the Caribbean put emigration loss in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to be just about equal to remittances between 1965 and 2000.

An increasingly large proportion of our national budget (18% percent of the recurrent budget in the 2006) is now being spent on education, and if we are not careful, the benefits we derive as a nation, may not be in proportion to our investment, as more and more of the graduates leave. Bear in mind too, this study looked at losses in financial terms only. There are other social costs that should be considered.

The answer is not for government to employ more of our graduates, we have already been warned by independent analysts about the size of our public sector wage bill. We must begin right now to create an environment which would be more welcoming to these graduates. Our private sector needs to be reoriented into a mindset where graduates are recruited for entry or middle management positions, and government needs to create an environment to make it more financially viable for local businesses to make use of the services of these young people.

Some of our local medium-sized businesses may do well from an injection of tertiary-trained fresh blood. The young graduates may be inexperienced, but the level at which they have been trained to think and operate, their absorptive capacity and the fresh ideas they bring to the workplace may be just what local companies need to ride out the challenges that will come with the CSME.

Graduates too, need to get past the idea that certain jobs are beneath them and that as university trained persons, they know everything. What is important is getting their foot in the door and proving their worth.

Students going off to study in the next few years also need to give more thought to the present and future needs of our local job market when choosing an area of study. No one this year is returning with training in journalism, construction management, forensic science, food technology, the culinary arts or other areas for which there is presently much scope. Areas like Engineering and Computer Science are also under-represented.

The Department of Labour announced on Tuesday that they are participating in a Labour Market Survey. Hopefully, the results of this study would be used to lay the ground work towards improving our preparedness as regards the utilization of the services of our university graduates.

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