From October 27 to 29, the UWI held its graduation ceremonies. During the event, thousands of students realized their dream. For these same students, the dream will very quickly turn into a different reality concerning the world of work. I wanted to offer advice to recent and past graduates who aren’t working, especially those in the job market trying to figure out their next step.
In April this year, I wrote in a column that an undergraduate degree prepares you for employment while a postgraduate degree gives you expertise in a particular field. Both types of degrees emphasize knowledge. Depending on the field, this knowledge is often more theoretical than practical. Add to that the labor market which becomes more and more saturated from year to year, and suddenly dreams become nightmares.
Without comprehensive statistics at the local level, I relied on employment statistics across the United States which paint a similar picture to ours. The data may not be transferable to our context, but we can nevertheless observe the trends adopted, especially by some of the most recognizable and profitable companies. These trends will also be useful for those considering employment opportunities outside of T&T for whatever reason; our out of control crime rate, family living abroad, or a perception of more job opportunities.
For example, Google has virtually removed the requirement for a first degree for certain positions. At IBM, the director of human resources said last year that 50% of the company’s jobs were open to anyone with the required skills. This came with the realization that the degree requirement weeds out candidates with the skills needed for the job. Additionally, because graduates don’t always have the right skills, companies must devote resources and time to training new hires who ultimately don’t always stick around due to frustration with the skills required. This leads to a high rate of labor turnover and a drop in the productivity of the company. All this means that potential job candidates, graduates or not, must seek to acquire skills.
In the remainder of this article, I describe at least three possible and cost-effective ways in which skills can be acquired:
1. Log in to LinkedIn. If you don’t have a profile yet, now is the time to create one. The number of users and the number of companies have increased steadily every year since 2010 and 2017, respectively. The growth of companies is particularly notable for the way employment agencies are moving away from, or at least reinforcing, the non-traditional way of advertising job vacancies. And no, LinkedIn is not an “American” thing. While the United States had the most registered users in 2021, 72% of the total number of members were found to be outside the United States. Job prospects for non-US residents have also improved due to the pandemic. On LinkedIn, you can apply for fully remote jobs that are advertised by US companies. These jobs are relatively more competitive, but you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. In this case, the “ticket” is free. All it costs is time to set up a free LinkedIn account, patience when looking for a job, and persistence to keep applying when opportunities arise.
2. Voluntary. Not only do volunteer jobs look great on your resume, they also provide you with employable skills. Local volunteer groups such as ALTA (Adult Literacy Tutors Association), Habitat for Humanity, and the Trinidad Youth Council provide teaching, building, and advocacy skills, respectively, that not only increase your marketability, but give you the satisfaction of contributing to a greater cause. . University life trains us to specialize in a particular field while protecting us from the daily lives of those who do not have the chance to pursue higher education. Volunteering puts you in the real world with real people from a variety of social backgrounds.
Volunteer skills translate into skills in problem solving as well as teamwork to achieve the mission of the organization. There are also volunteer positions available through the United Nations Volunteers website. You can sort volunteer positions by expertise and skill set; social work, translation, communication, education, arts and design, etc.
3. Free online courses. There is no shortage of skills to learn through online courses. Platforms such as Coursera and edX as well as more renowned names such as Harvard University all offer free courses in specialized areas with no prerequisites. Google offers developer certification along with free coding assignments that provide you with the skills, not the degree, needed to become a software engineer for the company. Adobe offers Photoshop courses for its branded software to help people improve their graphic design skills. Although the course itself is not comparable to a degree, the point of completing the course is to learn the skills, not to get a piece of paper with fancy letters. For platforms that offer a digital certificate, it is even possible to integrate your achievement with that of LinkedIn to improve the visibility of your profile.
With every degree comes a batch of job-ready candidates with the hope of seamlessly entering the job market. In reality, this does not always happen. The three recommendations I’ve offered only scratch the surface of how to take a skills-based approach to improving job prospects that don’t rely solely on a degree.
—Author Jarrel De Matas is a doctoral candidate and associate professor in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.