GraceKennedy: Providing Hope for the Inexperienced and Unemployed

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GraceKennedy: Providing Hope for the Inexperienced and Unemployed

I will never forget the struggle that I endured the first time I attempted to find a job. Recently graduating from a Master’s programme, I thought that job opportunities would have been endless. But, as I scanned the job posts, one after the other, one thing constantly stood out on each job description: “Five Years’ Experience Needed”. Here I was, qualified but with absolutely no work experience.

I quickly learned that the majority of employers in Jamaica were not willing to give fresh out of school individuals what I termed “worthy” jobs; jobs that would actually utilize the skills and knowledge we had spent so many years acquiring. Instead, they would bring us into an office setting, and ask us to copy or file papers or do some remedial task which required little to no effort. Now I am not saying that everyone does not have to start somewhere. Where you go from where you start, though, is critical.

When I was first asked to write about the GraceKennedy Internship Programme, this is the mindset I had when I approached it. Little did I know that these interns started at a different place and a different pace. I had assumed that the stories would involve lots of paper pushing, but I was definitely wrong!

After conducting research on the Programme itself, and interviewing not only the former head co-ordinator of the Programme, Mala Russell, but also several of the interns themselves – who are now employees, I have to admit that my initial assumption was so far from accurate.

To provide you with a little history, the Programme was announced by CEO of the GraceKennedy Group, Don Wehby in 2012, in a speech he was making at the Mona School of Business and Management. Wehby himself said he saw how recent graduates were struggling to get jobs, even though they had sound academics, because of their lack of work experience. Similar to my own plight, he too referenced the fact that most job postings were asking applicants for a wealth of job experience, which typically would not be available to a recent graduate.

As such, in January 2013, GraceKennedy Limited launched an official Internship Programme with the purpose in mind to provide its participants with an opportunity to garner work experience so that they would be more competitive within the job market. Despite offering work experience, GraceKennedy and its participating subsidiaries did not want the Programme to be just a filler on their resumes. So, they ensured that all interns who were selected had meaningful roles within the corporations that they were entrusted to. They were all given significant responsibilities, and expected to adhere to and uphold the rules and values of the corporation.

Speaking to the interns, as well as Mala, it is impossible to deny that the Programme has been extremely successful. Mala is able to cite countless examples on how they have impacted the various subsidiaries, as well as the overall conglomerate. To her, one of their most notable contributions is simply the wealth of information that they provided on the needs and wants of the up and coming Generation Y. As members of this generation themselves, the interns were able to provide GraceKennedy with innovative ideas on how to create effective strategies that would appeal to people who were just like them. Mala also reveals that GraceKennedy was so impressed with all of the interns’ work ethic that by the end of the Programme all of the interns were offered fulltime positions throughout the company.

The success of the Programme can also be measured by the experiences of the interns as well. Over the two year period, the Programme has amassed a total of fifteen interns, and listening to them speak about their internship period definitely speaks to how profound of an impact GraceKennedy and its subsidaries has had on each of them.

Damion Davy, one of the 2013 interns is quick to reveal that he believes the Programme is excellent. When asked about the basis for this review, he reveals that he thinks that the Programme has been beneficial to him for two primary reasons. It broadened his horizons by teaching him a host of new information about Marketing, and it also allowed him to converse and interact with influential and talented business people like Mr. Wehby, who inspire him. But Damion also speaks about another aspect of the Programme, one that is typically showcased much less- GraceKennedy’s commitment to the development of youth in Jamaica. For him, this is one of the primary reasons that the company has invested in the programme, because they are concerned with building Jamaica and developing the countries young minds so that they can contribute to society in an effective manner.

Warren Cornwall reinforces Damion’s statements as he too speaks about GraceKennedy’s involvement in youth development. Without GraceKennedy Limited, he honestly believes that he would not be who he is today: A successful, confident and hardworking individual, who has come to embody the values of GraceKennedy, of “honesty, integrity, and trust”. What is most notable to Warren is not the fact that GraceKennedy afforded him this work experience, which helped to develop him as an individual, but the fact that the conglomerate helps to develop the lives of so many other individuals who are just like him. Not only through the Internship Programme, but also through their many scholarships and grants, which aim to give the Jamaican youth a chance to achieve the very success that he has.

Based on their stories, one thing is clear. Both the interns and GraceKennedy itself benefitted from the Internship Programme. The interns were able to garner work experience, fulfilling the mandate of the Internship Programme, and the company was able to continue an initiative that is close to its heart– that of helping members of the younger generation to achieve success and reach their full potential.

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