Challenge our best and brightest
Providing jobs for scholarship recipients so they can get work experience is, on the face of it, a worthwhile policy. But such an initiative can also become a high-end make-work programme which could have the unintended consequence of wasting the talents of the nation’s best and brightest.
Public Administration Minister Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan last Wednesday announced that the ministry would be hiring 400 scholarship recipients every year in order to give them work experience. Through this measure, the Government is hoping to improve the ratio of returning graduates who take up permanent posts in the Public Service, which at present 43 per cent of them do.
Paradoxically, however, Ms Seepersad-Bachan also expressed the hope that graduates would aspire to become entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs. But perhaps by “improve”, the minister did not mean to increase the number of scholarship winners who stay in the Public Service, but to reduce that figure.
If so, she is on the right track. In any country, it is the private sector which is the driver of prosperity, and so the most talented and hard-working individuals should preferably work in private firms. At the same time, there are always equally talented and hard-working persons who want to work in the public sector because they have a strongly developed sense of service.
The Public Service needs to change its organisational culture and managerial practices in order to encourage and promote such individuals, since no private sector can operate effectively without an efficient state bureaucracy.
At present, many of the scholarship winners who return from study to fulfil their contractual obligations to the State find themselves in mind-numbing posts that provide them with little or no opportunity to utilise the knowledge and skills they have spent four or more years acquiring. This, unsurprisingly, is quite de-motivating. As a result, many of our best young people leave for other societies where they can be challenged and where their worth is appreciated.
The ministry’s Associate Professionals Programme could change this. This programme, if it is properly structured, could be a mechanism which allows our high-achieving young people to decide what kind of career would bring them the most fulfilment. But, if the programme is to accomplish this, the scholarship winners cannot just spend the year marking time under the guise of gaining “work experience”. Instead, the ministry should have an intense and detailed agenda which will challenge the graduates and provide them with insights into how ideas and policies function in the real world.
This is a core challenge facing our society — to keep our scholarship winners here in Trinidad and Tobago so they can help the nation reach its true potential.