Apprenticeship programme to boost supply of skilled labour
Gossett Oliver, GUEST COLUMNIST
Earlier this month, Jamaica launched the Registered Apprenticeship Programme (RAP) in a bid to help create a pool of trained and certified technicians from which employers can satisfy their need for skilled labour.
It is important to view this development in a broad economic context. As the Jamaican economy seeks to become competitive, changes are required in its labour market, in terms of the types and levels of skills available. The regulatory environment governing the labour market, and apprenticeship schemes in particular, must ensure relevance and responsiveness to market dynamics. Whenever the labour market shifts, if workers cannot transition efficiently into emerging industries and new occupations, it results in a failure of the labour market. One way to prevent this as well as to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is to introduce an effective apprenticeship programme.
Against this background, the RAP was developed as a joint initiative of the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Industry Investment & Commerce. Administration of the programme falls within the ambit of the HEART Trust/NTA in its capacity as the principal Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) provider and facilitator at the national level. The Cabinet-appointed board for the RAP provides governance and overall leadership and reports to the Minister of Education. The RAP is a formally structured, modern competency-based, standards-driven, flexible inclusive approach to on-the-job training, which leads to certification that is internationally recognised. These include the National Vocational Qualification of Jamaica, Caribbean Vocational Qualification, and City & Guilds of London Institute. The RAP is guided by the National Qualification Framework, a technical operating model that comprises five levels.
Alternate pathway to certification
As a feasible TVET modality, the RAP is designed primarily to facilitate skills development. In addition to providing a foundation for the professional and social advancement of individuals, the apprenticeship programme presents an alternate pathway to certification leading to articulation into fields of higher learning. The effectiveness of the programme lies in its alignment with the needs of a modern labour market. The RAP is designed among other things to:
Provide a practical framework for job creation and solving high youth unemployment
Transform work ethics while fostering a culture of quality, efficiency and productivity
Provide a structured mechanism for up-skilling and re-skilling of the existing workforce
Ensure workforce stability and sustainability by facilitating succession planning
Create a cadre of competent technicians to attract FDI.
The programme is tripartite in nature, involving; government (board), capital (employers) and labour (apprentices), as the principal stakeholders. The efficacy and success of this programme are inextricably linked to collaboration among these stakeholders. The principal elements comprise:
Governance framework with clearly defined roles and responsibilities
Contract of apprenticeship that establishes the relationship between the employer and apprentice, setting out the obligations of each party
Industry-driven system where employers and workers create the basic supply and demand conditions that characterise the labour market
Agreed funding mechanism that guarantees success and sustainability of the programme
Standards that define occupations and certification developed by the Standards Governing Body - National Council on Technical & Vocational Education Training (NCTVET).
Employers as enablers
Employers play a critical role as the chief facilitators and enablers of the apprenticeship programme. They establish the infrastructure for the formal engagement and retention of apprentices; provide a safe and professional work environment that facilitates productivity; facilitate on-the-job training, mentorship and supervision of apprentices; as well as provide an environment conducive to the professional development of apprentices. Employers are also expected to honour all obligations of apprenticeship agreement including payment of an agreed stipend.
At the outset of the programme, 200 apprentices have been assigned to 25 employers, with more set to join next year. There are plans to place apprentices in 168 schools in the areas of lab technicians to develop their skill set in information technology under the Career Advancement Programme.
Apprentices in RAP are required to observe all terms and conditions of engagement within the contract of agreement; demonstrate diligence and productivity in the performance of assigned duties; meet mutually agreed deadlines and standards of performance; as well as observe all rules and procedures of the organisation to which they are assigned. In addition, apprentices must observe all facets of the training and certification plan governing tenure of apprenticeship.
The Apprenticeship Board has sought from the commencement of the programme to benchmark it against international standards. Representatives of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have reviewed the RAP against the background of a 'Quality Apprenticeship System' as articulated by that agency. There was need for only minimal adjustments and modifications, as feedback from this exercise indicated that the major structures and supporting systems of the RAP were in alignment with the ILO's concept of 'Quality Apprenticeships'.
Jamaica welcomes this collaboration with the ILO as we seek to establish an apprenticeship system that is recognised internationally.
Professor Gossett Oliver is Chairman of the Apprenticeship Board.