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Cuban-trained engineer finds no mining jobs

Published:Saturday | October 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Jovaun Lawson (right) and some of his batchmates displaying the Bachelor of Science degrees they earned at the Higher Institute of Mining and Mettalurgy in the city of Moa, Cuba. - Contributed Photo

Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer


JOVAUN LAWSON, a native of St Andrew, has always been ambitious. Early in his life, he wanted to be a lawyer or cosmetic surgeon. He loved biology because of how it was taught by his teacher at Campion College, but another teacher at another school turned him off biology.

The love was eventually given to another science subject, physics. Lawson's teacher, a mechanical engineer, would give applicable examples which helped him to understand the concepts of physics of which he said he loves "the creative elements". His career interest also changed from cosmetic surgery to engineering.

Lawson did not really know what type of engineering, but he developed an interest in nuclear engineering.

After high school, he embarked upon studying the sciences at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus. Still in his first year at UWI, he, by chance, heard of scholarships to study in Cuba, and with much encouragement Lawson went to the Cuban Embassy and applied for a physics scholarship.

But based on his academic qualifications so far, he was qualified to study mining engineering, for which he got a full scholarship.

Lessons in Spanish

But there was a catch. The lessons would be delivered in Spanish of which Lawson didn't know many words. Spanish was his least favourite subject in high school, and that was his second opportunity to study in Cuba. The previous time he wasn't mature enough, he said, to undertake the study of medicine. This time around Lawson had to do what he had to do.

He left Jamaica for the Higher Institute of Mining and Mettalurgy in the city of Moa with a pocket Spanish dictionary which he used to get around upon arriving in Cuba. It was about consulting the dictionary regularly to communicate. There were many laughable moments, he said, because of the blunders he would make after consulting the little book and trying to speak afterwards. Nevertheless, there was one year of preparatory Spanish classes.

He was taught Spanish in Spanish as the tutor didn't speak English. Moreover, there were speakers of other languages from all over the world in the class. The methods employed by the tutor worked for everybody, he said, but much of what they learned was done outside of the classroom. Lawson spent the next four years being taught mining engineering in Spanish. "Learning in Spanish was challenging (to translate), but eventually it helped, as Spanish can be a very concise language," Lawson told Rural Xpress recently.

It was a comprehensive programme that exposed him to different aspects of mining engineering. He recounted his experience with a certain mining operation as part of his training. "It is the most efficient laterite mine in the world, operating at approximately 96 per cent efficiency. It is part-owned by the Cuban government and a Canadian company called Cheret. I had a lot of hands-on experience there. I worked in the planning department," he said.

After five years of hard work, Lawson graduated with a bachelors of science degree in mining engineering. He said, to his knowledge, only two other people in Jamaica have this type of qualification. He returned to Jamaica two years ago, armed and ready to get a job in the mining sector. "My training can benefit Jamaica in terms of helping to accelerate our progress towards achieving the goals stipulated by the ministries of Jamaica. I can contribute to the areas of strategic planning and design," he said.

Getting a job

However, getting a job in the mining sector is proving somewhat challenging for Lawson, for reasons which he doesn't understand. "I have made applications to numerous ministries and private companies, most of which don't use engineers as there aren't regulations in place to force them to do so," he told Rural Xpress, "I have applied for mining jobs, as well as other engineering positions, also for ones that would call on the three languages I speak." For his efforts, he said he has had a few "call-backs", but no solid job offer.

"It makes me feel very out of place. Also keeping in mind that the mining industry is not at its best and could use all positive changes it could get, and that there are not many persons with this specialisation, and that a small increase in this industry can impact our GDP significantly, and in turn help to raise the standard of living in many a Jamaican home," the teacher of physics at Titchfield High School said, "I feel like a gourmet butcher's knife being used to cut carrots."