Are Colleges Preparing Graduates For Entrepreneurship?

September 3, 2017

JAMAICA'S JOB market is extremely challenging for many graduates leaving universities and colleges. Gone are the days of the 1960s and '70s when students leaving the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the University of Technology (UTech), formerly CAST, had the choice of several attractive positions in the private and public sectors.

Apart from traditional professions, such as medicine, nursing, law and teaching - for which there is a steady annual demand because of migration - many graduates of tertiary institutions struggle to find fulfilling employment. With their numbers increasing, more young college or university graduates are being encouraged to start their own businesses.

It is a fact that, with the increase in information and computer technology, most jobs of the future will not be lifelong engagements with large private or public entities. Rather, these jobs will be of shorter duration with much technology-driven and macroeconomically-driven change and require retraining, upskilling and lifelong learning.

Traditional jobs will be the subject of fierce competition and many graduates will need to create their own jobs and enterprises, or work in teams to do this.

But are our tertiary education institutions preparing students for success on the entrepreneurial journey in an environment where even veteran business persons are being seriously challenged?

Preliminary observation by the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC) indicates that the country's tertiary education institutions have made considerable linkages to many institutions that facilitate young graduates being successful in business. To be successful in business in Jamaica, entrepreneurs of all levels of experience would be advised to interface with several state institutions to legitimise and lay the foundation for their business over the long term.

These institutions include, but are not limited to:

The Companies Office of Jamaica - which is involved in the registration and regulation of businesses.

Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) - the agency that promotes business opportunities in export and investment.

- Tax Administration Jamaica - the country's revenue (tax) collection agency.

- The Jamaica Business Development Centre (JBDC) - provides services to make businesses survive and prosper.

Municipal corporations - local authorities that, among other things, permit business activities such as entertainment events and beauty salons.

The Scientific Research Council - responsible for fostering scientific research and applying technologies to industry.

The Jamaica Stock Exchange - mobilises capital and facilitates the growth of companies while providing return on investment for shareholders.

A few examples of the partnerships between higher-education institutions and important public- and private-sector agencies include the following:

In February 2016, a memorandum of understanding was signed between JAMPRO and the UWI Open Campus to increase access to its training programme for young entrepreneurs through an online platform. According to a newspaper report, the agreement allowed live-streaming of JAMPRO's capacity building workshops, to be displayed through the Open Campus' online and face-to-face facilities across Jamaica.

Since 2012, JAMPRO has hosted workshops in illustration and animation for students of Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts and UTech with a view of Jamaicans getting involved in the multimillion-dollar animation sector.

Last November the Scientific Research Council hosted thousands of students at its Open Day as part of activities to mark Science and Technology Month. Students, including those from UWI, UTech and Northern Caribbean University (NCU), viewed live attractions in robotics, confectionery making, solar and hydrogen energy, tissue culture and waste water treatment.

Creating Bridges

The JBDC, an agency of the Ministry of Industry, Investments and Commerce, in partnership with UWI, operates the JBDC/UWI Business Centre. According to JBDC's website, the partnership was in response to a need to create a bridge between theory and practice, and as such increase the implementation of business ideas/models, to provide a platform for strengthening entrepreneurial interests and capabilities within the academic community.

Furthermore, many tertiary institutions, including UWI, UTech, UCC, and Excelsior Community College, have bachelor's- and master's-level programmes, as well as short courses for entrepreneurial studies. These programmes include emerging disciplines such as security, logistics and supply chain management.

It has long been recognised that universities can assist motivated students with good ideas to start their own businesses. Therefore, university administrators should be creating curricula and physical space to support such efforts. In recognition that many students desire to start their own businesses, universities should be offering even more courses and modules in entrepreneurship (both business and social) across all curricular areas. In other words, students should be able to get fundamentals of business education no matter what else they may be studying at university.

In addition, according to Dr Max Blouw, former president of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, not all students with an interest in starting businesses want to initiate and run them - some will want to work in the angel and venture capital arena to provide early-stage funding to start-ups.

Dr Blouw, who was speaking at a recent forum organised by the Economic Growth Council (EGC) at Jamaica House, posited that to enable students to undertake hands-on learning, universities could seek to create a venture-capital pool in which students invest with faculty members' guidance and academic evaluation. Academic credit could be given for the activities above when students' performance can be objectively evaluated in a rigorous manner.

Recent surveys by Wilfred Laurier University show that more than 90 per cent of all university graduates, no matter what they study, will be engaged with the world of business in some manner. Accordingly, it is the view of Dr Blouw that universities need to shift their curricula and programmatic structures to help students to be successful in the future.

The former university president also suggested that cooperative education could place students with employers in paid positions for periods of four to eight months (depending on the programme) to enable them to learn about the employment sector in which they are placed. In addition, the students will be able to test their learning from the classroom in the real world, and to reflect on their own reactions to real-work challenges, opportunities and issues. Employers would have the opportunity to evaluate students as potential employees, and to give them work.

These are some of the additional strategies that have been successfully implemented and executed by several leading universities in Canada and which local higher-education institutions can also adopt to advance the success of their graduates in the modern economy, as well as supporting the prosperity of the wider society.

It is clear also that several government and private-sector institutions are indeed involved in the identification, incubation and growth of entrepreneurial ideas in Jamaica and are working closely or at least have some interaction with the country's tertiary institutions.

Perhaps the challenge for the graduates emerging from colleges and universities is to be more proactive in seeking out the available resources to develop their plans into viable businesses. This, of course, should happen only when they are ready to make the plunge into the world of entrepreneurship that admittedly can be an unknown wilderness with uncertainties, but which is greatly rewarding.