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Machel Monday and Mediocrity
« on: February 06, 2016, 12:07:57 PM »

Jeremy Francis
Managing Director/Principal Consultant at Beyond Consulting Limited

Machel Monday and Mediocrity.

Feb 5, 2016

The Productivity race, is a race to the bottom.

I have a distinct memory of the hue and cry that was raised when local entertainer Machel Montano dropped out of A levels to pursue his career in music. I remember it, because I was in school at the time- the fact that he is only three years my senior meant that to some degree, we were contemporaries (that and the fact that whilst he went to Presentation College, I had the privilege of attending arch rivals St. Benedict's College).

In short order he proved his critics wrong, and after a string of hits and high energy, theatrical performances, Machel remains one of the most successful and sought after entertainers in the region. And rightly so. He gets the importance of productivity.

 I raise this example to segue into my topic- the obsession of education in Trinidad & Tobago and the wider Caribbean region- and the negative impact it has on workplace productivity. 

The pressure to do well in school is enormous, and has been for a long time. Whilst many of the parents in the baby boomer generation may not have gone much further than secondary school, they made sure that their kids- Generation X and beyond, went all the way. To the point where Millennials  basically come out of the womb with degrees. Children are learning several languages in some primary schools, they are technology whizzes, and can clearly articulate why their baby sister is being naughty. And, nothing is wrong with that.

But in a scenario where a first degree is as common as O'Levels used to be in the past, and Masters and MBA graduates are being churned out in the thousands every year, the workforce is being flooded with scores of young, bright persons, who do not have the first clue about work ethic or commitment.

It is clearly evident in the entitlement mentality. 'The fact that I have a degree means that I should be well paid. No, it does not matter that I don't have experience. I am bright. And yes, I expect to be promoted by the end of the year. And every year after that. In fact, you should just make me the CEO now.' And they mean it.

Truth be told, the GATE (Graduate Access to Tertiary Education) program has not helped the situation, and in my opinion, should be scrapped. Many young persons are doing degrees, simply because it is free, and in areas that they have little or no interest in. They then flood the market in their early 20's with little to no work experience and with high expectations... now employers have to become surrogate parents.

Don't get me wrong, higher education is necessary and needed for a society to progress, but it quickly loses its potency when the average graduate is unable to apply what they have learned in the real world- and to contribute meaningfully to the economy.

We have this obsession with being 'bright'. With having the highest education qualifications possible. And we look down on those professions that do not require these standards- the so called 'blue collar' workers. What many people don't realise, is that these blue collar workers make more in a month than many of their white collar office dwelling counterparts. And they work harder too.

So whilst we are pushing our kids towards a doctorate and debt (to pay those fees), big international companies like EY (formally Ernst and Young) and Penguin Random House (one of the largest publishers in the World), have ditched degrees as a requirement for employment. Other international firms are sure to follow their lead.

Because intuitively, we know that it takes a lot more than a degree to be successful in business. Having one does help. The rigour of study and the networks formed are definitely an asset.

But so is real work experience.  For now, the well paying and 'respectable' jobs are earmarked for the degree holders. They come to work having never worked a day in their life, like spoilt brats, waiting for opportunities to be given to them. I know this because I was one of them.

When I got my first job out of university, I was one of a handful of persons at the company that had a university education. And by handful, I mean one of about three. The CEO, and most of the managers did not count among that number. Much less for the general staff. To say I was treated like royalty in those first few weeks was an understatement. But then the honeymoon ended, and reality hit like a ton of bricks- a degree will get you through the door, but you have to work really hard to stay in the building. I had to un-learn the privilege I felt I earned and start over.

I stayed in that first job for six years. A lot of that time was frustrating, and the pay was small, but I had a lot to learn, and a point to prove. That foundation was key to the professional that I am today. Unfortunately, a lot of our new graduates won't stick around that long; in fact within the first couple of years, most of my contemporaries had already changed jobs several times. And again- nothing is wrong with that- each story is different.

As parents we push our kids to excel in school. Common Entrance, now SEA is a nightmare for kids as well as parents (read: mothers). We are elated when they come home with straight A's. But we don't teach them responsibility by not having them wash  their own dishes, and cleaning up after themselves. We don't teach them the entrepreneurial spirit, by not making them find ways to earn their allowance. We don't because it wasn't done for us. But the cycle needs to be broken.

Our current cycle of low productivity won't be fixed until these kids coming into the workplace get a 'degree' of a clue.

Until then, I'm waiting on the stage, with Machel.