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Ten reasons Bahamian college graduates don’t want to come home

NICOLE BURROWS

Published: Sep 17, 2014

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While we have to, as individuals, take responsibility for creating our own opportunities where there may be none in sight, I do blame in larger part, and please excuse me, the “mo fros” who established the original protocols and norms of the educational system in conjunction with the Bahamian workplace, which together created so many disconnects between education and employment that The Bahamas would today find itself hemorrhaging most of its educated population to the workforces of other countries.

As a Bahamian with a college education, I cannot imagine the plight of Bahamians who have not had the chance to learn a trade, to study locally or abroad and to become certified in something that can at least form the basis of a career. I am having the hardest time, still – for 15 years now – and I have college diplomas. If I’m struggling so, how on Earth are people who have no credentials surviving?

Rather than return to the Venus flytrap they call home, college grads would sooner take their chances in a foreign land of greater opportunity than resign their lives to barely getting by, consequently putting off career, more education, family, and dreams, because they can’t afford to do anything more than survive when they choose to come back home to work. The system works in opposition to their success. How?

 

The list

One: In The Bahamas, a Bahamian can’t get a job with no experience, and they can’t get experience without a job; like the dog chasing its tail, they chase opportunity in a system designed to limit access, even with a college degree.

In spite of the fact that many job ads call for the applicant to have a degree, the work experience component of the ads placed by businesses in The Bahamas often makes college graduates unqualified for the advertised positions. These Bahamian citizens are marginalized further when illegal immigrants and expatriates can work more easily in The Bahamas, because their lack of (truthful and verifiable) experience goes under the radar.

For Bahamian college graduates, the building blocks of their education become stumbling blocks, as it appears the working world imposes a penalty for choosing college over entering the workplace directly after graduating high school. Those who go to university and those who don’t will meet a similar cyclical challenge of work experience, but there’s a special version of it suffered by college graduates that has a lot to do with…

Two: They can’t get a decent job without a good contact or current or recent work history, which is not likely they will have if they’ve been abroad for several years. They have to know someone who knows two to four other people, one of whom may be able to give access to a workplace, somewhere, without requiring you to already be on a job (or have 10-plus years of experience), be it relevant or not, to the graduate’s preferred specialty.

Moreover, if the college grad chooses to job search solely on the basis of merit, as many educated youths tend to do when their thoughts of the future are still idyllic, they’re in for a rude awakening. Few things happen by the book in The Bahamas, and unless new graduates learned while in college how to circumvent processes and manipulate systems, these young people are severely limited with options for gainful employment.

Networking, if you can call it that in the backdoor culture of The Bahamas, has to begin in earnest long before graduation, maybe even as early as one’s date of birth, given that who you know proves more important than what you know when it comes time to enter the Bahamian working world.

Three: They can’t find meaningful work in their chosen or studied field. Because they can’t practice their specialty (unless it’s medicine or law), they work elsewhere for a while, which inevitably turns into years, and in the end they spend too much time caught in the routine of working to make a living instead of working to build a life.

College students return, having graduated from English, art, psychology, biology, music, politics, and they’re forced to work in hotels or banks just to earn a few dollars or to start building work experience. The problem here is not with paying your dues to make it, but rather that a college grad can’t truly follow her or his passion with no structured career paths in place to exercise the knowledge acquired while obtaining an expensive education.

And all education is expensive. To make matters worse, if the graduates are innovative, it just throws them back even more with respect to time and opportunity, because few people respect the innovator’s bright ideas – at least not until those people see that the same ideas bring monetary reward, or notoriety, at which point they will either jump aboard the train, or hijack and steal the train.

Four: What they actually do on the job, when they are lucky enough to get a job in their desired field, contributes minimally to their growth in that field. They’re filing when they’re qualified to analyze and strategize. They’re at the copy machine when they could be drafting contracts. They find it difficult to hone their expertise in order to become experts themselves when other experts are brought in around and over them to get the very opportunities the college graduates need to excel but are instead left to attend solely to menial tasks.

They learn the ropes, yes, which is important to sharpen that academic know-how, but they can’t use their training to its fullest because they are blockaded by internal forces that regard them as a threat and therefore bend over backwards to keep these college-educated young people limited with respect to the number of occasions they have to utilize the full range of their talents and skills.

Five: They get paid pennies, certainly as compared to what they would earn and the quality of life they would have if they chose to live and work elsewhere in the world. The minimum starting salary offered to them at the first level of employment does not meet the minimum standard they expect, oddly, in a country that hastens to brag about its U.S. par value dollar.

And yes, absolutely yes, there should be a minimum standard. But minimum standard does not mean low standard. Of course, a new recruit should bring something substantial to the table when arriving at the table, and should not expect to collect if they have no real talent or skill to contribute, like the fast food employees in America pushing for a minimum wage increase to $15 per hour.

But, in reality, further education costs a hell of a lot of money, whether you’re privately or fully funded or not. And college graduates need a return on their (parents’ or sponsors’) educational investments. Securing a good ROI is a first rule of business, is it not?

Six: They cannot reconcile the typical Bahamian work requirements to meet their modern day circumstances. They are expected to clock in and out at nine and five, with one hour of lunch between noon and two, and a couple of pee breaks.

But gone are the days when this template worked effectively and each person left high school to have only one or two jobs in their respective lifetimes until they reached retirement age and collected a pension. That worked well for our parents, when things didn’t move at warp speed or the cost of living wasn’t 10 times greater.

But, the way the world is structured today and the way it operates, with rapid evolution of technology and communications, means business changes quickly. And to keep up, an employee must change quickly, which, essentially, includes updating and improving self and adapting to the realities of modern life.

As a result, employers must also change their traditional business models and diversify staff composition for a better balance of full-time and long term versus part-time/ contract and short term employees, and make allowances for things like remote systems access and mobile work, flexible hours and paternity leave. If a university graduate needs these options and gets them abroad, it’s another reason not to come back home.

Seven: They are horrified by the closed and restricted mentality of the Bahamian people. After their exposure to the world beyond the sunny isles, college graduates have energy, hope, inspiration, motivation and momentum to change their country for the better, only to return home and get smothered by the spirit-killing energies of disenfranchised citizens and spirit-killing family and friends, some of whom are genuinely unaware of their gloomy dispositions, but others who are fully aware and quite happy to keep living in their rain boxes.

When the opportunities of the educated to become further educated are seen as rendering others ignorant, insecurities abound and opportunities dwindle. Bahamians are traditionally closed-minded, and even though we know this when we’re amongst our people, when we leave and come back after a long time has passed, it is a total shock to youthful ambitions and an automatic turnoff to the idea of moving back home.

Eight: They are depressed and deterred by a crumbling society: the crime, poverty, illegal immigration; the lack of respect for environment, cleanliness, decency and personal property – all further worsened by the fact that a couple hundred thousand people are squeezed together on one small island.

This new place they see is not the place they left behind when they set off on their quest to make a difference in the world. And with the rapid degradation of a society living in close quarters, it’s not the first place one wants to call home either, but for the sun and sea and the loved ones for whom it is still home.

But the work it will take to change the environment and carve out their own opportunities within it, to help to build the nation at least to where it should be, is more than a new graduate wants to undertake. Rather than be depressed and demotivated, the Bahamian college graduate will seek a life outside of The Bahamas, at least for the time being, where there are more options for greater peace of mind, hoping they will find something improved in their home country when they finally decide to return to it.

Nine: They are shell-shocked by the slothful and lax approach to life and business in The Bahamas. After they get beyond the novelty of being back home, when it comes time to actually get things done, they encounter a mass of people on permanent mental vacation where nothing very productive or progressive can happen, whether at all or for extended periods of time.

The pace of life in The Bahamas, though enjoyable for unwinding, is unacceptable for actual goal achievement and real economic or social development. When most things which are necessary or worth doing take ridiculously too long to do, it is counterproductive to individual and national progress, but, more importantly, it limits individual success and leads to an overwhelming majority of frustrated people who are constantly unhappy or angry.

The gross inefficiencies which lead to such frustrations are more worth enduring in a place where the college graduate is more valued; home, amongst compatriots, sadly, is often not that place.

Ten: They are competing with foreign imports of labor, legal or illegal, wealthy or poor, for a place and stake in their own country, and paying more for less opportunity in the end.

Bahamian citizenship gives them no real advantage. Their home no longer caters to them, if ever it did. Real property is priced beyond the reach of average Bahamians and the status quo-keepers – political elite and realtors in constant hot pursuit of the foreign investor – are fine with keeping it that way.

The cost of basic utilities and food is already following the same untenable incline, and alternatives are few and far between, particularly with a current administration which sees fit to force the people to buckle down and tighten belts, when they know they’ve never taught them anything about buckling down or tightening belts, and when they themselves do not do it, within the scope of their public or personal obligations.

Case in point: We can’t keep the power on but we’re spending $9 million on a Junkanoo Carnival with minimal guarantees of short, medium or long-term economic benefit. How does this exemplify a concern for the priorities of the Bahamian people? Who wants to come home from college and not be a priority in their own country?

 

What we can expect

Bahamian students won’t return to The Bahamas, as long as there is somewhere they believe is better for them to live and contribute while achieving their goals and fulfilling their dreams. The effort required to convince them otherwise will continue to be gargantuan and outside of the ability of anyone currently in a position to see it through.

Education (abroad) is an escape route from a place where there are no incentives for citizens to return and to contribute to nation building, because the culture is not one of productivity and innovation, but rather of silent acceptance and expectation of reward for remaining obedient to the boss-worker, master-slave, tourist-native mindset. This is not the thinking of younger, college-educated Bahamians, who have climbed and are still climbing out of their country by way of the overseas university “fire escape”.

Others, like me, have been hustling for years, refusing to give up on the possibility that there could be prosperity and fulfillment in our country of birth, with our respective talents, when most of our peers took the “better” option when they graduated from college. But there aren’t many of us left (here) who feel this way about our home and, in time, if deprived enough, we too will bid our beloved country adieu.

 

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