Business, Investment and Economics

The Exchange rate, Entrepreneurship and Tertiary Education in Jamaica

Off the bat these three things might seem to have “diddly-squat” in common, but you’d be surprised at how much they interlink. Thanks to the IMF, our exchange rate has been doing wonderfully to serve them and their plans for foreign direct investment. The local man with his enterprise naturally suffers, and will continue to suffer as it gets harder for him to remain competitive. Should we be surprised that this is happening? No. We should in fact take some of the blame for it because if it wasn’t for this unhealthy appetite we have for imported goods, those foreign capitalists wouldn’t have an incentive to set up shop here, and our local guys would be smiling.

As our exchange rate continues to depreciate against the US dollar, Jamaica could benefit greatly if you’re the type of Jamaican that believes in selling a piece, to gain a whole. It’s common sense: the cheaper it gets to do business here, the more attractive it will be to foreign investors. The more investment from them in Jamaica, is the more tax revenue and employment for us, thereby providing more money to spend on even bigger Grand Gala celebrations; and maybe some upgrades to the newer models of Toyota Prados that our Prime Minister gifted to her ministers some time ago.

USD vs JMD

But on the flip side a lot of businesses might fail, and if they don’t fail then they’re going to have to offer up a couple more gallons of their blood and sweat to stay in the game. This is why I’m indifferent towards the government’s “Buy Jamaica” campaign, which essentially is suppose to encourage Jamaican consumers to buy locally produced/manufactured goods and services. If the exchange rate is eventually going to make it harder for our local entrepreneurs to compete with their international opponents whom carry with them an obvious advantage in cost of production, then why even promote such a campaign? And why try to link it to entrepreneurship and it being the right mindset to have when venturing into business? It’s all a sham really.

Probably some political plot to get the consumers to buy locally produced/manufactured goods from Big Local Brands for some reason too deep for the layman to understand. Probably it’s their way of ensuring a steady pool of contributions during election time? Or maybe the same politicians are just looking out for their friends at the top. The real joke though is that most of these Big Brands don’t even produce/manufacture most of their goods locally; they do it in another country where it’s cheaper, then ship it here to be packaged locally. When Jamaicans started to wise up to what was happening, this is when they switched their perspective from “Buy Jamaica” to “Invent Jamaica”.

JBDC-Anthony-Hylton-640x425

All of sudden tech entrepreneurs and businesses based on S.T.E.M (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are the potential saviors of our ailing economy; the nerds with blueprints for inventions that we used to overlook. I guess the successes of Mark Zucherberg, Steve Jobs and all the other tech pioneers from Silicon Valley has got the politicians thinking big, and thinking globally. I have to admit, Jamaica does have some of the most creative minds though, so maybe they might be going somewhere with this one.

Tech entrepreneurship is a Billion dollar game that only the most innovative can play, so it’s good that we’ve seen the light and are now making strides to getting our best inventors up there. But what does that mean for the other ideas? the ones that aren’t as innovative, or sustainable but still have a chance of feeding a village and creating substantial tax for the government? Do they get overlooked? Abandoned? Will the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce take them as serious as they would the guy that invented a device that controls weather (hypothetically speaking)? Food for thought I guess.

uwi

Education in Jamaica isn’t the most perfect, but I do have some recommendations on how it can be made better. My problem really is with the tertiary curriculum. I think the Universities in Jamaica need to consider revising their “practical” degrees to actually have a practical element to them (with the exception of Medicine and Law to an extent). A degree in Economics or Management Studies for example, that carries with it so much qualitative work should be accompanied by mandatory apprenticeships that give its students the opportunity to put what they have learnt to do into practice. It makes no sense producing graduates every year to contend for jobs that ask for “..a minimum of 3 years experience” when most of these students probably have a year of work experience at most, as a result of their cumulative summer work experiences.

To avoid the cost of training a graduate from level zero borne by the employers, they should try working with the universities to train them while they study. I don’t think it’s too expensive to do either , because most of us students not asking for a hefty salary, or even a stipend for that matter. Some real work experience in the field that we’re actually studying is invaluable to us. Sometimes the problem is not the lack of jobs for “qualified” graduates, but rather the lack of work experience to validate the qualifications of those graduates.

Another thing, they should bring back Civics to the our high schools. I wasn’t born in the era when it was taught in schools, but from what I’ve read in old civics text books, I’m confused as to why this isn’t a mandatory course in our schools. Why would they want to stop teaching our young people the importance of participating in the political process? The elements and intricacies of politics in Jamaica? The history behind the deficiencies in our politics? How else are they suppose to come up with the solutions needed to fix our nation and ways in which they can contribute wholesomely? From leisure reading? (chuckles)

Part of the reason so much of them are fascinated with the US is not just the opportunities for work and/or higher purchasing power of their dollar, but it’s really the culture of the Americans. Americans for the most part are proud to be a part of their American citizenry, and are very much assertive about who they want to lead their 50 states. They’re a functional, organized democracy and they maintain the kind of society that humans naturally will want to be a part of; the kind of society that wears the perception as the caregivers of the people (even if they don’t always live up to their name).

Sincerely,

 

-G.B

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