The Jobs Dilemma

August 18th, 2017

The Government announced a couple of days ago that our employment rate is at an all time high. Or, to put it another way, unemployment is historically low. The inevitable response soon followed: That’s great, but what constitutes employment? And what kind of jobs? Are we looking at the question of underemployment? Are we looking at low paid jobs, the “working poor”?

I found a little bit of a breakdown on where these new jobs have been created on the STATIN website. Prime Minister Andrew Holness reported on his Facebook page:

Data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) show that the number of persons securing employment peaked at a historic 1,204,800 in April 2017, which was 35,800 more than the 1,169,000 persons employed in April 2016.

STATIN data also showed that the unemployment rate fell by a further 1.5 per cent in April 2017 to 12.2 per cent relative to April 2016.

Curiously, according to STATIN the largest increase in employment was in Real Estate, Renting & Business Activities, which increased by 9,700 (12.8%). Also, Professionals, Senior Officials and Technicians showed a healthy 7.4% increase; I wonder what specific jobs this category covers. Then there is Service Workers and Shop and Market Sales Workers, which increased by 7,800 (2.9%). Meanwhile, the Wholesale & Retail, Repair of Motor Vehicle & Equipment sector remained the largest employer of Jamaicans (and that is where most women are employed). I find the categories a little confusing, though – what is the difference, for example, between a shop worker and a retail worker? And what are Business Activities?

You can find lots more nice labor force statistics here.

It’s worthy of note, too, that women’s unemployment (now 15.3%) is still higher than men’s (9.5%). This has always been so, regardless of the reports of “Jamaican women are doing so well as middle managers,” etc. Jamaican women, especially in rural areas (I would like to have seen a comparison of rural/urban employment) remain on the sidelines, many just focused on survival for themselves and their families.

What about the youth, I hear you cry? Ah – young Jamaicans aged 14 to 24 years (can a 14 year-old be in the labor force?) still have a much higher unemployment rate than the 12.2% cited above, and this is a great worry. Close to one third of Jamaicans in that age group are unemployed – young women at 33.2% and young men at 25.6%. Youth unemployment now stands at 28.9%, a decrease of only 3.1%.

This is not something our Government can be proud of.

It’s not only the number of jobs, I hear from young people. It’s the quality of jobs that we need to look at. For example, university graduates, on emerging from the hallowed towers of Mona campus with the albatross of a student loan hanging round their necks, largely reject jobs in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector. According to JAMPRO, there are 55 companies, both local and foreign-owned, in Jamaica operating BPO and call centres (they call it the “Knowledge Services” sector). They employ more than 22,000 Jamaicans, says JAMPRO, and they represent the highest employment growth rate in the island over the past decade. These must be the Service Workers mentioned above, I’m thinking.

Many young Jamaicans don’t seem to think much of BPO jobs. University graduates must do better. However, can the average university graduate immediately walk into a “comfortable” job? Very few do. Working in the BPO sector is apparently not a bed of roses though. One graduated told me that he developed physical symptoms and was highly stressed by being told to take three calls at once, working in BPO. Another said the late shifts and long hours are difficult – especially for those living in volatile areas, who are dropped off from work at a central location. Employees are not well treated – it’s hard, and the pay is insufficient. Besides, they are working at jobs for which they are overqualified and chances of promotion are slim. There are plenty of grievances.

What are the alternatives? Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur – as has been said ad nauseam.

Yet, a job is a job is a job. Is an undesirable job better than no job at all? Perhaps – it is “work experience,” which counts for quite a lot. One can push for promotion or any other opportunities that exist. However, some have even left BPO work to sit down at home, I have learned.

It’s all a matter of dollars and cents, though. Jamaicans don’t earn much, in general – young or old. But the early years in the world of work are usually rough – unless you have special “connections,” your Daddy puts you in the family firm, or you just get lucky. This is especially true of Jamaica, but not very different elsewhere. Why should we struggle, the young graduates ask? The same question is being asked all over the world. I have met college graduates driving taxi cabs in the U.S., and working in stores (as my brother did) in London. But…they were all planning to move on to something better. This was temporary.

At some point one has to move on. One has to climb the ladder and find better work. In a few years’ time, one should have reached a higher “comfort” level, income-wise. Ideally.

Where are the jobs that one can move on to, though? Real estate?

I would love to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “The Jobs Dilemma”

  1. […] cent overall drop in unemployment; but youth unemployment has only fallen by just three per cent. I wrote about this for the Gleaner blogs this week, having looked up some numbers on the Statistical Institute of […]