Winston Adams | Increase training to cover for worker attrition
There has been a steady increase in the number of professionals being trained in Jamaica in various fields during the past two decades. Significant expansion in the capacity of the country's two main universities - the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, and the University of Technology (UTech) - has meant that more persons are graduating with requisite competencies to meet the human-resource needs of the local and overseas job markets.
Medicine, law, education, nursing, and national security studies are just a few of the areas in which Jamaica's tertiary education institutions have consistently produced graduates in recent years. However, in most cases, the supply of graduates in the various fields has not kept up with the demand.
Based on reports in the local media and other credible sources, there is an ongoing shortage of medical doctors, teachers, nurses, and police officers in Jamaica. Even in the legal profession, despite a significant increase in the number of lawyers being called to the Bar and subsequent murmuring about the capacity of the society to absorb the increased cohorts, we have heard the authorities lamenting the understaffing of lawyers in critical institutions such as the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
It appears that the number of professionals in various fields that are retiring, emigrating, or moving into other areas of work continues to outstrip those that are replacing them in the positions that have become vacant.
Reports on the shortfall in three sets of professionals - teachers, nurses, and the police - and some recent efforts to address the problem are detailed below.
There is a shortage of teachers, particularly in mathematics, sciences, and languages. Some 500 maths and science teachers in secondary schools left the classroom between 2014 and 2015, according to a Gleaner article in July 2016. Education Minister Ruel Reid suggested using technology to distribute lessons via YouTube as one way to address the teacher shortage.
In February 2016, just before the last change of Government, an in-service training programme was announced to upgrade 1,400 secondary maths and science teachers at a cost of $401 million.
In July this year, Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton noted that Jamaica's specialist nurses were being recruited to work overseas. He said that the training of specialist nurses at UTech was being expanded as part of strategies to address the problem.
The shortage of nurses in Jamaica, however, is not identical throughout the region. In 2014, the then Minister of Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, noted that some Caribbean countries actually have an oversupply of nurses.
In January this year, then president of the Nurses' Association of Jamaica Janet Coore-Farr told The Gleaner that Jamaica loses between 150 and 200 nurses from the public system annually, with 170 mostly specialist nurses leaving the public sector for jobs overseas.
Figures supplied by the Nursing Council of Jamaica indicate that approximately 1,296 nurses are trained in Jamaica annually.
The Economic and Social Survey of 2016 revealed that the Jamaica Constabulary Force was 20 per cent below the establishment size. There were 14,091 posts in the JCF, of which only 11,233 were filled. According to the survey, 643 persons enlisted in the JCF during the year, while 549 persons left. This was mainly because of resignation, retirement, and death.
According to a report in The Gleaner in June this year, National Security Minister Robert Montague indicated that based on a survey, poor working conditions were the major reason for cops leaving the force. However, other reports note that Jamaican police were being recruited to serve in other Caribbean countries.
Meanwhile, to address the shortage, the national security minister announced the expansion of the Jamaica Police Academy in Twickenham Park, St Catherine, to accommodate 650 recruits, up from 300. He also announced repairs to Harman Barracks to accommodate an additional 50 recruits, up from 150.
The shortage of police personnel is a long-standing one, with reports of under-resourcing going back to at least 2007, despite the country's high murder rate of well over 1,000 persons on average per year.
Judging from the reports, it is high time for all stakeholders in Jamaica to find a long-term solution to the ongoing shortage of these professionals in the interest of the country's development.
I suggest that an assessment of the training capacity of all tertiary education institutions involved in the training of maths and science teachers, nurses, and the police be carried out urgently, with the objective of increasing the number of professionals trained in these areas by 50 per cent over the next three years.
Our foreign affairs officials and contacts in the diaspora should actively seek lucrative employment opportunities abroad for the professionals being trained locally. Care should be taken to ensure that the remittances to be earned by Jamaica more than offset the costs of training these professionals here.
In fact, local tertiary institutions could enter into partnerships with hospitals, school districts, and police organisations in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to train professionals for their domestic markets, with part of the cost being borne by their taxpayers.
- Dr Winston Adams, JP, is group executive chairman of the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean and first vice-president of the Jamaica Association of Private Tertiary Institutions. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.