24/06/2018 – The Trinidad Guardian. / Earn a university degree and get a job. This formula has worked with relative success for decades but increasingly, in many fields today, it’s no longer working.
Every year, hundreds of graduates from the University of the West Indies (UWI) find they are unable to locate employment in their respective fields, even with a first class or upper second class degree.
Such was the case with 25-year-old Hannah Hosein, who earned her chemistry degree two years ago. What should have been an exciting new chapter in Hosein‘s life as a chemist quickly turned into frustration and disappointment.
“I graduated in 2016 in chemistry and I didn’t have a job for quite a while. I thought about going into my own business because it’s really tough out there to find employment. I faced many closed doors but I didn’t give up.
“I then applied through an employment agency and finally I got a job,” Hosein recalled.
After thousands of dollars spent and hours of sacrifice to obtain her tertiary education, Hosein was unable to find suitable job placement. Instead she had to settle for a position as a customer service representative at a telecommunications firm.
“This job was supposed to be for two months but it kept extending every month and it went that way for about 14 months. After that I told myself I really needed to make some money. At that time all the agency staff went home including myself… so again I was jobless. I was really lost when that happened,” she said.
But this St Augustine resident is resilient. Her desire to use her knowledge in chemistry led her to soap and candle making.
She said: “I was looking through the papers one day and I saw the Government offering community development classes.
“I really wanted to learn about soaps and where to source the ingredients to make them but the art of candle making was equally enjoyable and it was also something viable for me.”
Hosein‘s mother, Anne-Marie, an air traffic controller, also joined the classes to learn to make citronella candles. These, among others have been top sellers.
Not only was Hosein lured by the various smells but the actual process allowed her to put some of her knowledge to use.
“There is some chemistry involved in soap making and I was happy that at last I was able to apply what I had learnt. I also researched online to bring in the oils which are not a available locally and the ones that can be sourced here are very expensive.
“For instance 30 ml of jojoba oil will go for around $60. You really need a lot if you want to get a nice bar,” Hosein explained.
This meant placing a high mark-up price on her products, something which she’s strongly against. She wants her products to be affordable to everyone, including speciality soaps such as tea-tree, peppermint and eucalyptus which are sold for the most at $35. Half size bars range in price from $17 to $20 depending on the ingredients.
Charcoal, oatmeal and honey, tea-tree and cinnamon infused with actual cinnamon sticks are much sought after by customers. These items are made using either the hot or cold process.
“The cold process takes seven weeks to cure, giving enough time for all the lye to dissolve so it’s safe to use,” Hosein said.
“The hot process is a quick turnover but the cold process enables you to achieve prettier and smoother bars. The hot process ‘cooks’ the lye so it’s not as smooth. However, by using the hot process method, these soaps can be made today for tomorrow. It’s the same soap basically. It’s just the aesthetics of it and it depends on how it’s packaged and presented to customers,” she explained.
The candles, which are also popular, are carved from various waxes, including soy, palm and paraffin. She prefers the latter because it’s not harsh on the environment.
The candles vary in size and prices range from $20 to $30.
“I don’t want it to be expensive although I know my products are worth more. I want people to afford my items and that way I will properly build my customer base,” Hosein said.
Retail spaces such as up-markets are becoming increasing sought after by blossoming entrepreneurs to showcase their skills there are drawbacks.
“I am taking part in a market at UWI this weekend but for me to afford a table I had to split it with my friend who does lip balm and like me she has her degree in chemistry.
“Sometimes you put out money for a spot in the markets but don’t make a single sale which can be daunting. On the other hand, you benefit by making new customers,” she said
Just as Hosein‘s business successfully kicked off she was fortunate to find full-time employment. Again however, it is not chemistry related. She currently works at an optical company doing promotions, marketing and screening.
While grateful that she’s earning a stable salary and has supportive employers, Hosein is speaking out about graduate unemployment.
“It’s really depressing knowing that I spent four years of studying and to date I cannot find suitable employment in my field, not even anything part-time,” she said.
Working during the day, meeting the demands of customers by night and finding time to exercise in between is onerous but for Hosein it is one step closer to establishing her own business.
“Given the way the economy is going currently I cannot survive on simply making soaps and candles but it’s a stepping stone for me.
“There are not many stores that bring in raw materials for my products and not a lot of variety either, so that’s something I want to explore when I become better established,” she said.
Hosein also plans to expand her product range to include her own line of coconut oil.
Her advice to young business owners is find a niche and develop a cutting edge.
“The market is saturated but this should not be a deterrent. Keep up with the trends and be creative. Everything will work out in your favour,” she said.