Sat | Aug 8, 2020

Editorial | Who will create the good jobs?

Published:Saturday | October 12, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Central Bank Governor Richard Byles wants to see the kind of economic transformation that will guarantee better-paying jobs for the Jamaican worker.

Earlier this week, the governor again echoed the concerns of other public-sector commentators before him who have called for new investments that would drive growth in an otherwise anaemic environment.

Notwithstanding the debate over the quality of jobs that have driven up employment numbers to enviable heights, our political leaders have been celebrating a record jobless rate of 7.8 per cent.

We agree that rising job numbers is nothing to scoff at, but we recognise that there are many faces to the employment situation. On the one hand, there are tertiary graduates who cannot find suitable jobs while there are working people who do not earn a living wage and their contracts provide them with precious little in the way of benefits. So they are virtually trapped in dead-end jobs. Then there are jobs that cannot be easily filled because the skill sets are not in great supply.

Growth has been taking place mainly in sectors such as the BPO, security, food service, retail, construction, and delivery. Therefore, the strongest growth in employment has been in low-paying jobs.

Having assessed the situation, Mr Byles, the newly installed head of the Bank of Jamaica, suggests that growth in other sectors where high-wage jobs will offset the number of low-paying jobs, thereby improving the economic well-being of workers.

Jobs in IT and the financial and health sectors that offer better wages also demand degreed employees. Most job advertisements for these sectors require at least a first degree. The competition for such jobs is very high.

There was a time when the manufacturing sector could be depended on to provide good wages for persons who attended high school and backed this up with skills/vocational training. Sadly, many of yesterday’s big manufacturing companies have been transformed into today’s big distribution companies. What remains of the manufacturing sector is pitiful and cannot be relied on to absorb many workers.

We can tell Governor Byles that the big investors are not coming any time soon. They have been scared away by crime and violence, hence the low investment in manufacturing plants. Even though the business owner may not be the target of the gunman’s bullet, he is likely to become a victim of extortion. The reality for any business person operating in Jamaica is that a huge chunk of his operational budget must be dedicated to keeping his workers and his plant safe from marauding criminals.

Because of the scarcity of jobs, employers can demand that people be more qualified than they really need to be. Many of the employees in some of these low-paying jobs have at least an undergraduate degree but can’t find work in their field of study, so they bide their time while they try to put food on their tables.

If we are going to have success at creating high-paying jobs, our best bet is to encourage revival of the manufacturing sector. But the country must face the fact that even with the most generous incentives, fixing the national crime situation is the only real remedy. A safe environment is one of the key elements for economic growth.

There are widely different views on the direction the economy ought to take in order to achieve growth. But one thing we can agree on is the need for our policymakers to assess the educational curriculum to determine future skill needs and how to start targeted training to fill those needs. So instead of a student undertaking a four-year course in marketing, he could be steered towards a career in cybersecurity, web designing or robotics engineering. The average Jamaican simply wants to take care of his family and honour his obligations. The majority hold the belief that reducing income inequality will go a great way in fostering economic growth for all.