Children, children! (Yes mama) If you go school and study ya lesson ebryting go work out!
If that colloquial chant were true, many young men and woman on island would have had more successful employment ventures when they returned home from their studies.
The dream is sold to children from primary school right through secondary school; a comfortable life in Antigua & Barbuda is attainable once you put in the coursework and obtain a university degree.
Davis and Tania have followed the instruction of their parents, teachers and a government which has provided the necessary funds to go abroad with the promise of an improved socioeconomic existence when they get that paper in hand and return home.
“I came here with an open mind and reminded myself that everyone’s experience is different but basically it seems like we all are singing the same song and that is, it’s extremely difficult to find a job that aligns with what you’ve studied,” Tania said.
Both arrived at the VC Bird International Airport with “open minds” while fully accepting that this new runway may lead to difficult paths as many college buddies have had their “ups and downs”.
Before arriving in October 2016, Tania contemplated remaining in the US and working, but with a strong sense of duty to her homeland and the desire to ease her family’s burden, she has returned.
Davis, a certified pilot sought the attention of LIAT shortly after his disembarkation, but it’s been 300 and some days since his return and the pilot’s dream has not taken flight.
“The way I see the economy working right now, you have to study what they definitely don’t have and some people want to follow their dreams (that I do understand) but if you are trying to get through in this country you should study what they don’t have,” Davis said.
The duo is “stuck” in Antigua without jobs that align with their over $80,000 degrees and specialised training because of private loan obligations and an indenture to the twin-island for three years.
They are not alone. “I don’t believe I am the only one having this problem…they can tell us these are the jobs we have available and you can pick which one worth applying to,” said a third student, Cameron, a biology major who was speaking on the idea of a reintegration of students into the work sector by the Board of Education (BoE).
She explained that when she approached the BoE scholarship department in 2012, biology was listed as a priority area but in 2017, the only job available to her is teaching.
“I wouldn’t say I’d be a good teacher,” for this reason Cameron, also an aspiring medical student, volunteers without pay at the Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) and has obtained employment at a relative’s jewellery store.
The biology graduate said she is in “limbo” as she is bonded but her studies are still incomplete. She wants to go on to medical school and study podiatry – a specialty that is needed in Antigua as the number of persons suffering with diabetes increases.
Tania, who has a BBA in Management Studies said there are no mechanisms in place to assist young educated Antiguans in finding jobs that compensate employees for their degrees.
Tania questioned: “Are these companies ensuring that their workforce can have the right training programmes and say, ‘Hey, I can hire this employee even if they don’t have the excessive years of experience?”
She explained that taking a private loan has given her some freedom to leave and she has made plans to move to Canada, roughly nine months after her return home at the end of her studies. She also expressed that this is her only viable option as her parents have had to maintain her for too long and “nothing is here for me”.
Throwing her mind back to late last year, Tania said her first stop was the government’s Establishment Division, where she filled out a job application after being encouraged by a government minister to take the “proper channel” and wait on “the call”.
Another returnee, law major Mark, said he chose not to wait on “the call” so he put on his best business attire, knocked on doors and shook the right hands at every turn. “If you think sending a CV or cover letter is enough, that is not going to work especially in Antigua where the application system itself is not as formal as the other countries,” he said.
Mark said graduates have to realise that an application can easily fall through the cracks in Antigua and one must be persistent when exploring job prospects while bringing something viable to the potential entities of employment.
“It’s either you save face and don’t have a job or you try [your] hardest with initiative and attempt to get a job. Don’t be nagging. I ask them when can I follow up. You relate to their human side and explain the urgency,” he said.
This young man was successful in securing a job, three months into his search but said it’s fitting to still petition the government to internalise what is expected from the hundreds of students abroad as it is impractical to absorb them into an already saturated public sector.
“Tourism gives you that instant turnover but with scientific research it takes you time, to build up that academic and scientific community. The best debt we could have is a debt in relation to education and research when it comes to our reintegration programme,” Mark said.
Tania, Davis and Cameron are between a rock and a hard place and have pleaded with the relevant authorities to include youth such as themselves in the dialogue if they are seeking to reintegrate well-rounded individuals back into society.
They agree that the state needs to assess the job opportunities that are available and these four young men and women declared that they are willing to bring to fruition the dream that was sold to them in this 35- year-old independent state.