A school, work gap bridge

The Chamber’s Careers Expo, held last month at the Family Life Centre, attracted a good cross section of businesses across Cayman as well as international colleges, all keen to explain to interested youngsters how they could follow their career or further education path. But bridging the gap between expectations of students and requirements of businesses is not easy.

The lament by businesses is a common one – school leavers are ill-prepared for the work place not only in terms of academic abilities but also in terms of appearance, conduct, punctuality and ability to communicate. The Careers Expo organised by the Chamber of Commerce allows businesses to be available to youngsters in a relaxed atmosphere to properly explain their requirements for joining the organisation, while youngsters can in turn gain insight into how they can progress onto their chosen career.

Preparing in advance

Maggie Jackson is a busy lady who wears many hats: She is the careers advisor for both John Gray High School and Clifton Hunter School and the acting deputy director for the Year 12 programme. She says that students are prepared in a number of ways through various programmes at the schools. Students were encouraged to attend the Careers Expo and to be prepared by taking resumes and enquiring about scholarships and part-time positions.

“Unfortunately our Year 12 students were taking exams on the day of the Expo, but some made it later on in the day,” she says. “We were pleased that students came back from the Expo confirming that the employers had said the same things we say all the time to the students – that good grades are important, as is a positive attitude and smart dress. It was a reaffirmation of what we as teachers say so it was good that the message was reinforced. We also encourage our students to network and pick up business cards, which they did. I think the Expo is definitely worthwhile.”

Ms Nelda Dracket, principal at Cayman Academy, said although there is no careers advisor at the school, teachers speak with students at the high school about career opportunities. Individuals from the community also go to the school to give advice about specific careers. Students were not given any specific advice about how to prepare for the Careers Expo but were encouraged to attend.

Brendan Touhey is head of Sixth Form at Cayman Prep and High School. He explains how students are prepared for their career path: “At CPHS we have a sixth form centre with study room, common room and a careers room. All students are closely monitored through the university and scholarship applications and we spend a great deal of time with each student individually ensuring they are making the best choices for them in their career goals and university courses. One part of this is the Expo, which highlights the professional standards and expectations. We had a large number of sixth form students go across to the event and they all came back with really positive feedback.

“In addition to the Expo, the school runs work experience for students in year 11 and we aim to place sixth form students in suitable work placements as it is an important aspect of applying to university. We have also just launched a new scholarship programme for the sixth form, which links successful students with companies. This programme aims to give bright young students an opportunity to work within a successful company and gain valuable experience while receiving additional scholarship funding for the duration of the two year A’ level programme.”

Business and IT faculty head for CPHS Natalie Jordan says approximately 23 students attended the Careers Expo.

“They were prepared in knowing what questions they wanted to ask. We checked students had objectives for the Expo. The Expo was not useful to probably half of the students as they are not Caymanian so cannot get scholarships and also, it was very American-based with universities.

“Those that did benefit were very excited about what scholarships are out there and on offer, and some art students were keen on one of the universities and Johnson and Wells generated a large amount of interest from our business students and possible Travel and Tourism students.”

High expectations

Students had a wide variety of career choices in mind and some were already planning their future careers.

Agatha Andrade, 18, a student at Cayman Academy was looking to pursue a career in law and approached the Maples and Calder and Walkers stands for more information. She was presently studying for CXEs and says she enjoys working with people.

Nick O’Connor, 15, with Cayman Academy was hoping to pursue a career in forensic psychology and found out that a lot of work was required to fulfil his career expectations. Travis Dixon, 15, also with Cayman Academy,was hoping to go into the field of both creative writing and theology while Vanessa Wilson, 17, said she would love to be a paediatrician.

“I approached the Health Services Authority’s booth and they told me to keep my grades up and keep working hard. I thought their booth was interesting,” she says.

Dannia Clarke, 16, says she is thinking about working in law because she likes to argue and debate and approached Maples and Calder and Walkers for information. She was given scholarship forms.

Nordania Stewart, 15, from John Gray High School was looking to pursue a career in HR and spoke to recruitment agencies about the industry. She says she hopes to sign up for college classes in order to reach her goals.

Kayla Solomon, 16, from Clifton Hunter, says she wants to be a paediatrician and found out how long she would need to study and the requirements for entering the profession. She also found out about scholarships.

Businesses’ perspective

Cindy Reid, recruitment executive with KPMG, says it was their job to enlighten the students about the wide range of career opportunities available to them at KPMG.

Reid said that although their was a healthy amount of students interested in learning more, many were not asking the right questions.

“A checklist of questions would have been very useful,” she says, to prepare students for the event and get the most out of the interaction with employees.

Other organisations and businesses agreed that too many of the students were far too interested in the freebies on offer at each booth. One booth holder was aghast at the poor quality of a resume shown by a student wanting to pursue a career in HR, another surprised to see a student wearing shorts and a vest when talking with prospective employers.

One company said, “We are looking for the best. We have the highest standards and that is what we are looking for in prospective employees. We would expect students to be asking the right questions about what exams they should be taking and the best colleges to apply for far in advance and certainly way ahead of their graduation in just a few months time, as has been the case here today. Preparation and awareness is essential.”

SteppingStones Managing Director Milly Serpell says she was encouraged by this year’s event: “I have been involved in the Careers Expo for nearly 10 years and I have seen significant improvement in how well young people have become prepared for the event. That said, I also believe that they have a long way to go to before they are able to compete in a global marketplace.”

Chamber CEO Wil Pineau was upbeat about the event, saying “Students interacted well with the exhibitors this year asking numerous questions about career and job opportunities across the major industry sectors. Many students were interested in learning about scholarship and work experience opportunities. Career guidance counsellors accompanied students with some teachers using the Expo as a class fact finding experience.”

Pineau says that each school is urged to inform students about the event and the various exhibitors that will be represented.

Businesses at this year’s Expo included the following: SteppingStones, CML Offshore Recruitment and Massive Equipment & Sales (the three main sponsors), PwC (reception sponsor) and booth holders: KPMG; Walkers; The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman; Island Companies; Maples & Calder; Rotary Club of Grand Cayman – Central; Cayman Islands Society of Human Resource Professionals; Cayman Pharmacy Group, Cayman Contractors Association and the Cayman Islands Society of Professional Accountants. 

Colleges included: the University of the West Indies; University of Tampa; Savannah College of Art & Design; University College of the Cayman Islands; International College of the Cayman Islands; Johnson & Wales University and the Students Association.

Government departments and authorities were also involved and included: Department of Environmental Health; Department of Tourism; Department of Immigration; Health Services Authority; Department of Employment Relations and the Portfolio of Civil Service.