Sharlene (not her real name but she exists) submitted over 100 job applications in 18 months, battled severe depression and contemplated suicide before she could find a job.
The 25-year-old, who graduated with honors from the University of the West Indies (UWI) in 2018, has completed her full two-year assignment as an office assistant with the On-the-Job Training (OJT) program in 2020.
Amid the raging global pandemic and growing economic uncertainty, Sharlene has been sent home without a secure source of income or a plan for her future.
And it was from her home in Princes Town that she would scour the internet, exhaust her resources and plead with potential employers for almost two years before receiving a response.
“I applied for over 100 jobs and not a single interview (was granted). The jobs weren’t even in my field. I remember being so frustrated because I chose a degree thinking he would have job opportunities and now I’m wondering if I really wasted three years of my life’s money on something I can’t benefit from,” she told the Sunday Express last week as hundreds searched for jobs at Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
She said the search left her exhausted and exhausted and led to a number of mental health issues that she could not articulate. Frequent panic attacks, sleepless nights and suicidal thoughts were just some of the problems that became part of her daily life.
“Mentally, I was slowly falling apart, my self-esteem was low and I was waking up with panic attacks every day.
“You reach that part of life where you have all this energy, that’s when you’re supposed to push yourself to build a future and you just can’t, no doors open and time is running out,” she said.
This year, Sharlene got an entry-level job, a job she says has left her overworked, underpaid and unsure of how to make a sustainable living. And despite working full time, the young woman said she found herself unable to afford basic necessities.
To make ends meet, she currently works two jobs, dividing her time between an eight-hour office job and using her free time to try to earn extra money.
“After a year and a half, I finally found a job, but it’s not in my field and it’s very underpaid. I currently have two jobs and could barely afford the basic necessities of life.
“How at 25 am I supposed to buy a car, build a house, pay bills and have kids at 35 on a four-figure salary? Entry-level jobs require more than three years of experience and a degree, but expect to pay less than $5,000.
Frustrating job search
“A lot of people I know got their jobs through connections. Most fields are saturated in Trinidad and opportunities are limited,” she said.
And that, she lamented, remains the stark reality for hundreds of skilled young people in Trinidad and Tobago who are facing unemployment or who feel they have no choice but to accept lower paying positions to survive.
As hundreds of desperate job seekers flooded the National Academy for Performing Arts (NAPA), Southern Academy for Performing Arts (SAPA) and Tobago on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, many called the scenario a direct result of the rising unemployment and underemployment in the country. .
Speaking anonymously over the past week, a number of young people (aged 18-35) told the Express that they felt underutilized, faced long spells of unemployment and settled into low-paying positions to survive. .
For a young woman, who in 2016 graduated with a BSc in biology, environmental and natural resource management, depression and anxiety were linked to an ongoing student loan she has yet to repay .
For the past six years, she said, her time has been split between cycles of contract employment and job hunting. To repay her loan, she said, she depended on the generosity of her family members.
And after several hectic and tumultuous months of searching, in 2022 the 27-year-old was left with no choice but to accept a job that pays less than $5,000 a month.
“I was depressed. The people around me could have seen it but they really couldn’t do anything. What can you say to a depressed person who still has a student loan to pay and no job in sight? I I had to ask my family members to join in. The depression took its toll, I couldn’t eat, the food wouldn’t stay. I kept sending email after email and I didn’t got no response.
“I was home alone and trying to find a job. I spent ten months with OJT and when my contract ended, the pandemic started. I was one of the unluckiest unfortunates and it was very hard. From the beginning of the year, we were already in crisis. I recently ended up with a job that is not in my field, a total career change for me. I have no link. It does not pay well, I am very underpaid, ”she lamented.
For another who graduated with a leadership and management degree, it took at least eight months after graduation to secure a position with CTF.
After completing the two-year period, she is again unemployed. Although she has been looking for jobs in her and other fields for months, she said she has yet to find a source of income.
As a result, she said she began to doubt the value of her academic achievements while struggling mentally.
“Long waiting times, almost no feedback. Job searches are difficult because some are waiting for a lot of experience. It had a psychological impact because times are getting harder and I went to school for so long. Not being able to find a suitable job is depressing. Why do they even promote education as a key if it can’t open doors or doesn’t have many doors to open with the degrees that are offered?” she asked.
CSO: More than 28,000 unemployed in T&T
According to the most recent figures released by the Central Statistical Office (CSO), in the second quarter of 2021 there were a total of 28,200 unemployed people in Trinidad and Tobago.