Thursday, April 16, 2009

To Make Ends Meet… We Must Compete!


By Mshaka


About twelve years ago I had a conversation with a group of executives that included a prominent banking official and I made a comment that prompted an angry remark from that individual.

What did I say? I told them that in the very near future Antiguans and Barbudans would have to begin acting like immigrants in our own homeland.

The banking official – a hard working professional, a stalwart community activist, and an Antiguan citizen by marriage, retorted that their children were not being raised to need two or three jobs to make it in their own country.

While I agreed with the optimism of the sentiment, I thought at the time that they had missed the point. Now, today, even more than ever, I think that my statement was prophetic.

The point I was making then, was that the many immigrants back in 1997, who were coming to our shores had started to act like Antiguans and Barbudans do when we emigrate to America or England.

In order to make ends meet in New York for example, we work two jobs… and still go to school… some of us even go full time. And that is just to make ends meet… to get ahead… we work morning, noon and night… and still go to school.

In Antigua, twelve years ago, I was beginning to see the need for us to compete in our own country… not even to get ahead… just to make ends meet!

To be truthful those are two issues… (1) to compete; and, (2) to make ends meet. The third of course would be to get ahead.

To compete? Yes… To compete with the Guyanese, Jamaicans and Spanish speaking people who had started to come to our shores in the tens…  So back then… 1997 or so…. we needed to begin to ramp up our own levels of economic activity… personal and professionals endeavors to compete with the immigrants.

And then… those people began to come in not by the tens… but by the hundreds… and now by some accounts… thousands! Of course we know that much of that was manipulated by those treacherous and treasonous political operatives under the red flag. But the reality is that some of it was driven by the global economic situation… and even more so today.

Therefore… given the huge increase in the number of immigrants – legal and otherwise – politically manipulated or economical driven – we are now in a position where Antiguan and Barbudan natives – born and bred – from Old Road and Point, from Sea View Farm to Grays Farm, from Freetown to Five Islands… all have to compete and struggle to make ends meet!

So Antiguans and Barbudans must be competitive in our own country.

While I am one of those who believe that we must rigorously control the number of new immigrants who come in and stay… I am also realistic that the major force today is not economic globalization… it is the globalization of people. People are moving everywhere… and it is a movement that cannot be stopped… It can be controlled… but not stopped.

So we must learn how to compete aggressively.

Our children must do well in school. From what I hear… some of the best students in our schools are non-native children! We have got to find a way to improve that situation. Many of our children are not motivated… and don’t seem to understand or care about the severe, lifetime liability that they are hamstringing themselves with by not focusing on educational success today. (More on this in another article).

Our professionals must learn to compete. Antiguan companies are having great difficulties filling executive positions. As a result they advertise the positions across the region and even around the world. Just check . We need to encourage our professionals to get that next level of training, that higher certification, that next degree… to get all that they need to take them to the highest levels so that they can compete with their counterparts from Trinidad, Barbados, the Bahamas, Jamaica and further afield – for the position of General Manager, Executive Director, Financial Controller, Human Resource Manager and other key roles.

Our mid-level professionals in government and in the private sector must do the same. They need to see themselves as ‘learning’ rather than being ‘learned.’ How do I get to the next level? What will it take? What certificates, degrees, specialized training do I need? What niche area is currently unfilled in my company? What are the niche areas need more professionals with specialized expertise?

Antiguans and Barbudans just entering the world of work, those who feel that they are stuck in low level positions, or those who are untrained and uncertified must catch-a-fire… they need to recognize that this world is different from that of 1997. If all you have are some ‘subjects’, or ‘years of experience’ then you are vulnerable and you are dispensable. Companies are looking for qualified and certified individuals who will perform, produce and deliver winning results that contribute to their bottom line.

Look at Antigua today… Who are the entrepreneurs? the most visible ones are the Jamaicans and Santo Dominicans… Bars, restaurants, vendors, auto mechanics, lawn care specialists… all foreign. And who is using their services… Antiguans of course. We are the consumers and they are the providers of services. Some of these foreigners have two jobs… (sounds familiar?) some have two or three skill sets… and they work hard… they are busy… they are creative… They have a mentality that says… “I came here to Antigua to make it… and I will do everything I have to do in order to be successful.” You ask them… Their immigrant mentality says… “I am a stranger in this country… so… If it is to be… it is up to me.”

There is a “Birdonomics” mentality in Antigua among Antiguans and Barbudans where some feel that the Government owes them a job. They feel that – just because they are Antiguan – that somebody should give them work… and if a business person does not do it… then a politician will give them some crumbs. And for too long, too many have been willing to accept ‘crumbs for votes’! That may have served the red flag politicians well… but it served to undermine the assertive and progressive spirit of a whole generation of Antiguans and Barbudans (Yes… Barbudans – you are a whole different case! More on that in an upcoming article).

A whole generation of Government workers – a whole generation of Antiguans – don’t know anything… can’t do anything.. and expect salaries – high salaries - for sitting three at a desk answering one telephone… three at a desk to handle one piece of mail or greet one customer… the remnants of Birdonomics… And some of these same people make it to Permanent Secretary… after years of doing the same thing… nothing. (Upcoming article on “The Principles of Birdonomics.” In the meantime see my February 17, 2006 article in this blog… “The Writing on the Wall”)

For Antigua and Barbuda to be competitive as a nation… our people must be competitive… we have got to be brighter to be better. We have got to be more educated and more skilled than the competition. We must work together, help mentor and train each other and foster the development of our young people forging them into internationally qualified and globally competent business persons, artisans, sports figures and entertainers. Locally… we must top everyone else… rather than coming here to teach… people should come here to learn.

We must go beyond just competing to make ends meet. We must compete to be first… to be better… then best.

And we have got to get rid of that Birdonomics mentality.