Graduation season begins and the brain drain opens wider
As usual the Dominica Community High School started off the annual series of secondary school graduation ceremonies, the traditional send-off for graduates of the secondary school system into the world of work. About the same time hundreds of students who sat the Grade Six National Assessment Examination prepare to attend secondary schools in September. Most will graduate in five years and unless there is a dramatic change in Dominica's economic fortunes, these graduates are expected to leave our shores in droves to join the thousands of our educated labour force who have left for the so- called greener pastures. The point is, we seem to be educating our youth to develop other countries that are much better off economically than we are. A reversal of that trend is needed if Dominica is to progress economically and socially.
Although every country in the Caribbean is affected by the so-called brain drain which sucks out secondary and tertiary level trained persons, few islands seem to be doing much to plug it.
For instance, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has reported that Caribbean countries have lost more than 40% of their labour force due to emigration to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, including, by the way, the United States of America.
The IMF paper added that the majority of Caribbean countries have lost more than 50 per cent of the labour force in the tertiary education segment and 30 percent in the secondary school segment; that is, persons who have had more than 12 years of relatively free schooling from the State.
There are those among us who will argue that without that level of migration most of our countries would be sitting on a time- bomb of unemployed youth. They also point to the fact that the region has the world's highest rate of remittances as a percent of gross domestic product. But no matter how valuable remittances are to our economy, it will never compensate for the loss of skilled labour or replace the cost of educating nationals who eventually migrate.
The fact that most of our young persons will not be able to find a job after they graduate indicates that our society, governments and families have failed those young persons who have been depending on us to ensure that they have a relatively secure future. And we are paying the price. Excessively high youth unemployment does not only stunt youth development, but perpetuates high levels of crime, violence, negative behaviour and poverty. A young person who has left school and cannot find a job is not only deprived of material commodities because of no income, that student loses self- esteem and self –worth which can have a lasting deleterious impact on that young person's personality.
That is why Government needs to make job creation for young persons, in particular, a major priority and place that issue right next to economic growth on the development agenda. To do that it has to undertake a major reassessment of the role of education in equipping young persons with skills and abilities required by a dynamic globalised economy. If the education system is sensitized to the requirements of the labour market that would also mean young persons would receive more effective career guidance and much more information about the job market.
Moreover, managers of secondary and tertiary education systems have to become more sensitive to the fortunes of young persons who leave their institutions. When they do, they would be more aware that the majority of employers are of the view that most of the graduates of these institutions are not prepared for the world of work. These employers say the graduates lack the necessary and relevant skills; have little work experience, and have exceedingly high occupational and wage aspirations and, most importantly, poor work attitudes. Therefore, one can conclude that some of the causes of the problem affecting the employment of young persons could be blamed on the youth themselves.
On the demand side of the youth employment equation, the majority of employers do not want their offices and institutions to be training grounds for young persons who are inclined to migrate as soon as they are trained. No employer is eager to spend thousands of dollars on training young persons who migrate soon after they migrate. These employers want multi -skilled persons who have the right attitude to work and who are willing to make a career out of their professions. A notable example is the Dominica Police Force; that institution has trained hundreds of police officers over the past decade but the Police Force continues its recruitment programme because trained men and women migrate.
Although programmes such as the Youth Skills Training Programme help young people create their own employment, YSTP is expected to be just a drop in the bucket and by itself will not make much of a dent in the high levels of youth unemployment. By all means let us have programmes like the YSTP but we believe that unless the economy becomes vibrant enough to produce sufficient jobs for the unemployed, the graduates of our schools will continue to migrate. They have few options.