Jeremy Francis

If you live on a small island in the Caribbean like me, and you have a Masters degree, MBA or similar designation, you may feel it isn't worth as much as it did a few years ago. You would be right. Programs such as Dollar for Dollar and GATE have meant that in Trinidad and Tobago, since the early 00's, many, many people have first and second degrees- in a market where there are just so many jobs.

At the current rate, if you don't have a first degree, you're just not in the game. Doesn't matter really if its in line with your current job.

Don't get me wrong- these programs are great. I myself benefited from DfD back in the day. I do have a sense though that back then, there was a greater value on the degree itself- probably because the market wasn't as saturated as it is today.

It is a particular problem in the social sciences. Try getting a job in HR with an HR qualification today. Its not going to be enough. You will have to have some specialist qualifications, memberships and experience to stand out from the crowd. Even in the natural sciences, you have to be top of the class to get the call. And the kids today are smart.

At the SEA level, it takes a score of on or about 97% (girls) to get into the first choice school. And those schools fill up quick.

But with all these letters on offer, how has the workplace really progressed since the advent of these programs?

For one, there are a lot more younger people with advanced degrees and little/no work experience on the market. Who expect large salaries. Because we have sung the mantra that education equals wealth and advancement. Which isn't always the case.

With a degree in Psychology, I ended up in IT and Logistics for six years. Didn't start to get paid for reading people's minds until I was seven years out of University (and four out of grad school). I don't know how sustainable that is now, when you consider the amount of people being churned out year on year from the multitude of tertiary level institutions.

How do we fix this?

By doing active career guidance in primary and secondary schools. The reason I picked psychology for undergrad is because I happened to be at home one afternoon, and I heard a psychologist on TV talking about the profession in a government sponsored career guidance program. This was in the mid 90's. It had nothing to do with a prospective job. In fact, the only job back then with that degree was teaching, social work or teaching. I wasn't interested in any of that. I just knew I wanted to do psychology. I would learn later that it suited my personality, and the business I started nine years after graduating.

We, as a nation have to spend a profound amount of time with the youth looking at career options- linked to the development needs of the nation. This must start in primary school, with programs that encourage STEM (I hope you know what that means), as well as more creative avenues of study. The days of channeling our young ones to become doctors and lawyers are way over.

In 2017, I am embarking on a program of career guidance and mentoring. As it develops I will share more in this space.

But we have to start doing something... now.