As graduation approaches, it is important that Florida A&M University seniors have a clear plan of action for life beyond the classroom.
“Blacks are more likely than any other groups to experience labor market problems,” according to a report released last June by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Last year, blacks represented 11 percent of the available labor market, but accounted for 29 percent of the long-term unemployed – individuals out of work for at least 27 weeks.
And black graduates are affected to a greater extent.
“As educational level increases, it becomes even harder for blacks to find jobs because they are in competition with white men,” said Nate Johnson, a FAMU economics professor. “Unfortunately, that’s the reality because (blacks) don’t control the jobs.”
Asians constitute only 4 percent of the labor force, but almost half of the managerial and professional occupation sector. Whites represent 36 percent, while blacks and Hispanic-the demographics most likely to work in the service industry-follow at 26 percent and 17 percent, according to the BLS report.
“A lot of it has to do with the history of this country,” said Sheryl Shivers-Blackwell, a professor in the FAMU School of Business and Industry. “People don’t realize the effect that (Jim Crow) laws have on current conditions today. (Blacks) missed out on a lot of education and experience. We’re catching up from prior discrimination.”
Shivers-Blackwell, like many other college professors, said taking advantage of the wave of globalization is a way for black students to combat this unemployment disparity.
“African Americans should start going global,” Shivers-Blackwell said. “Africa is a large continent with a lot of resources. We’re not there.”
For blacks who want to stay closer to home or have Caribbean ties, Shivers-Blackwell said Haiti is another viable option.
“The world is smaller,” said Doris Corbett, director of residences and internships in the School of Business and Industry. “Americans are working abroad in greater numbers. African-American students should gain experience through international study and internships while in college, and have no fear when they graduate.”
Although whites have already embarked on global endeavors, Shivers-Blackwell said, blacks who do so need to take a different approach-one rooted in social and cultural responsibility.
“Whites have got the market sewn up,” Shivers-Blackwell said. “We should reach out to our black brothers and sisters around the world. It should be about improving their quality of life and making the world a better place, not just enriching our pockets.”
Being successful in any arena, especially overseas, requires preparation, Corbett said.
“(Students) need to read widely and interact with individuals from other cultures and diverse backgrounds. Tallahassee is a melting pot. All you have to do is reach out.”
Mastering a foreign language, especially those labeled critical-need, such as Chinese and Arabic, make students more desirable to potential employers, Corbett said.
Joining the Peace Corps or the military are other ways to “get out in the world,” Shivers-Blackwell said. She said students have to begin to think in ways considered non-traditional.
“We limit ourselves and miss out on a lot of opportunities,” Shivers-Blackwell said. “Be flexible enough to adapt to a change in environment. Get in the forefront and begin making things happen instead of letting things happen to us.”
Students shouldn’t hesitate, Shivers-Blackwell said. They must seize the moment.
“Get a passport,” she said. “Get it now. Get it quick.”