Fri | Mar 23, 2018

Jaevion Nelson | Do we have a shortage of labour?

Published:Thursday | January 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Last week, Ed Bartlett, the minister of tourism, announced that a hospitality school will be built at a cost of $400 million. After reading the Tourism Sector Study, published in June 2016 by the HEART Trust/NTA, I have one question: What is driving the Government's decision to build a new hospitality school?

There are nearly 30 educational institutions offering one or more programmes

I didn't realise that an announcement about this new school was made some time ago as found in reports on JIS from May and July 2016. Training will be offered in gastronomy, knowledge, shopping, health and wellness, and sports and entertainment. The minister says the hospitality school will ensure there is local supply of persons for mid- and senior management positions. We know professionals and senior officials make up the larger share of persons being given work permits in Jamaica. Between 2000 and 2010, 32,460 of the 45,861 labour immigrants were professionals, senior officials and technicians. I'm however always curious to know if this is because the skills are not available locally or Jamaicans just aren't being given such jobs.

As for this new school, couldn't these programmes be done through one or more of the 28 existing schools? What is the problem with the programmes at our existing schools? Why aren't they providing persons so trained for these positions? What evidence is there to suggest that the skills are lacking? Is it the number of Jamaican vs foreign managers or is there some robust research that guided the decision-making? And let's say there indeed is a dearth of capacity locally, what assurance do we have that persons trained will get these positions?

I did some research and got some answers which I think might interest us all. Jamaica's Performance of Select Human Resource and Labour Market Indicators (Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report, 2015) is pretty impressive. We score 4.1 out 7 in terms of ease to hire foreign labour, staff training and hiring and firing practices placing 62, 59 and 55 out of 141 countries. However, we aren't doing as well where ease of finding skilled employees (3.9), pay and productivity (3.4) and treatment of customers (3.8) are concerned. Importantly, the Tourism Vision 2030 Sector Plan (2009) found that while there is a large pool of trained workforce, low compensation package for staff is a weakness in the industry and brain drain continue to be a threat.




Of note is The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) projection that direct employment in our sector will increase by 0.6 per cent in 2016 and rise by 3.9 per cent annually to 136,000 jobs by 2026 (HEART NTA). Accordingly, just about 200 new management jobs (1.2 per cent of all new jobs!) will become available between 2017 and 2026.

In October 2015, 200 persons who attained degree were seeking employment in hotel and restaurants as general managers. The Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica found that at the end of 2014, over 20,000 persons completed training, including some as administrators and managers. The Tourism Sector Study found that 'there isn't a major issue with availability of labour for the industry'.

It found that employers have challenges filling managerial positions in St Catherine, St Thomas, KSA, Hanover, Westmoreland, St James, and Trelawny. A number of occupations, including chefs, butler, entertainment coordinators and department managers are in increased demand in the tourism sector.

The study concluded there is and will be 'an available pool of labour' of 22,000 people who are trained or certified but would require 'upskilling and/or assessment and certification'. There are concerns for some occupational areas though, for which it suggested the 'development of a training plan' and enhancement and expansion of programmes at the existing institutions, including for executive/general managers. Interestingly, it did not recommend that programmes be offered in management but did so for data scientists, food technologists, nannies, etc. I imagine because these management programmes are already offered.

Earlier this week, on JIS's website, the minister highlighted the importance of the school. Again I ask: What is driving the Government's decision to build a new hospitality school? One hopes that our leaders are at all times prudent about how they spend public funds and the investments they attract.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to and