The Priority of Priorities

Creation of job opportunities

A very big and major challenge, and problem, that all countries are facing is rising youth unemployment. Hordes of youth are coming out of universities, in both the developing and developed world, with the hope and expectation that they will land jobs where what they have learnt will be put to use.

The reality on the ground is quite different. For a start they have to get a job, which means multiple applications to different firms, organizations, or government openings where these exist and are offered. However, similar stories are found about this initial foray of the starters in the world of work. Beginning from no reply, to outright rejection, to an impossible, Catch 22 requirement: experience. To acquire experience, you need to get into a job; and to get a job, you need experience. How to resolve that dilemma except by greater understanding and goodwill on the part of potential employers? And also seriousness and affirmed commitment on the part of the job seekers when they do manage to land a job?

Different countries have their own ways of addressing some of these issues, but there are a few basic approaches. One is for institutions to arrange placements in industry and other sectors for their students, usually when the latter are in their final year. In this way, the students not only get an idea of the world of work, but are also thereby introduced to people and places where they may subsequently, because of this contact, have a better chance of being recruited should they seek employment later whenever positions are available.

Post-qualification, there are internship schemes that may be available, again as a way of getting introduced to the world of work. Alas, following the financial crisis of 2009 and the difficult economic environment that ensued, austerity measures were perforce implemented in many countries. One of the impacts related to internships: whereas earlier they had been paid, now there was reduced pay – which was still not too bad. Soon, though, internships became unpaid, ‘voluntary.’

In parallel to this, there were two related phenomena. The new graduates who found jobs in their field of study had to settle for lower pays. On the other hand, those who were not as lucky, that is, getting a job adapted to their qualification, were forced to take up whatever was available, until such time as a more suitable job was found. The wait for this was indeterminate, given the overall economic situation.

Genuine problems

It is from this perspective that we must view with concern what is happening on the political scene in the country presently. We have a motley of ageing leaders who are hiding behind the smokescreens of democracy and moralization about the ‘national interest’ to perpetuate their reign, prevent the emergence of younger elements in their respective fiefdoms and reengineer the power structures solely to their individual advantages.

Wouldn’t it have been better if all these energies were rather spent on addressing the genuine problems that are facing the citizens of Mauritius, especially that of youth unemployment which has not spared our country either? There are so many dysfunctions across the board that need to be straightened out that this display of the on-off saga is detracting attention from – unless this is deliberate.

If there is a mandate to govern – not only to rule – until 2015, then for heaven’s sake and by all means that’s what the government should be doing, rather than wasting so much of valuable time on trying to install a system that has the potential of unhingeing the political stability that the country has known so far and which is recognised and acknowledged, at least in the region. Persistence along the path of this political tussle is not the way forward to solve the crying problems that the population is facing, and which the absence of the possibility of bringing up for consideration in the Parliament is certainly not helping either.

We had pointed out in an earlier article that, ‘While it is the legitimate and commendable aspiration of every Mauritian citizen to achieve the highest possible level of education, it is equally the responsibility of those who are encouraging this trend to look ahead and prepare the enabling environment and the opportunities for those who come out of the system to find suitable employment. Everybody will want a job where the education and training gained will be put to use – but because this is not likely to happen in all cases, the mindset will have to conditioned accordingly to cope with a variable period of transition while waiting for the best fit employment,’ and expressed concern about the ‘hordes of graduates who will simply swell the ranks of the unemployed. If this is the fate awaiting the comparatively smaller number of students who go on to pursue higher studies, one can well imagine the plight of those who are left behind, and here there is an even greater pressure to address their need for gainful employment.’

We feel that these remarks are still relevant to our local situation. It is a fact that government jobs are limited, but there are sectors in which it is mainly the government that can provide opportunities for employment, namely the social sectors which is increasingly also the case in developed countries, especially in health care and social welfare. For example, in providing for the needs of the elderly (such as assisted living facilities) government still has a major role to play.

Nation of entrepreneurs

On the other hand, while the authorities are quite rightly emphasizing entrepreneurship as the main strategy and route to employment, it is also their responsibility to carry out regular analyses of whether their objectives in this respect are being achieved. Some people may be shy or afraid of taking risk in spite of facilities that are offered. Why? It is in the national interest to find out the reasons and address them so that those who are reluctant are given the necessary confidence to become entrepreneurs, even if on a small scale.

Increasingly, we hear stories or have personal knowledge of youngsters going to study abroad who are not thinking of coming back. This is not a good sign for an ageing population! We need our brains and brawn to come back and to take the country to higher levels of development and progress. The leaders have to set the right example by stopping to bicker, allowing younger blood in to infuse new spirit, and choosing to take a well-deserved rest, playing the role of mentor rather than activists and movers and shakers in the frontline. That, and not the dirty games being played, is the way forward for the country’s secure future.

* Published in print edition on 27 June 2014

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