THIS NEWSPAPER welcomes the recent gain in business and consumer confidence, as measured by the Jamaica Conference Board/ Market Research Services, after a massive slump the previous quarter. But we find troubling the contrasting outlook by job seekers and employers in the labour market.
According to the survey findings, nearly 90 per cent of consumers said that jobs were scarce and hard to get, with only 26 per cent of respondents expecting job gains in the year ahead.
The initial high expectation was, no doubt, fed by the governing party's promise of jobs through the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme. As the report points out, "The expectation that jobs would become more plentiful under the new government policies represented its primary appeal and, ultimately, the greatest disappointment."
The business community is disappointed, too, but for a different reason. They have jobs, but cannot find suitably qualified persons to fill them. Francis Kennedy, president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), which commissioned the business and consumer confidence survey, has indicated that potential employers are reluctant to take on the expense of on-the-job training for any considerable period.
A response is required in the short term to address this deficit in employability skills, which has been manifested in the disconnect in employment outlook of job seekers and potential employees.
One policy solution is to make better use of employers' financial contribution to HEART Trust/NTA. These resources should be directed to assist organisations in addressing their entry-level training needs individually, sectorally or through a national apprenticeship system. Of course, employers should take advantage of the option to write off their training expenses in calculating their tax liability.
The poor employability skills among job seekers is obviously an indictment on the nation's education system, which has to be addressed in the medium and long term. Education and training institutions need to better inform and align their curriculum with the existing skills gap in industry.
Now is perhaps a fitting time for the JCC and the Jamaica Employers' Federation to dialogue with academia.
Bad-mouthing the dollar
While the management of the economy remains of utmost importance to this newspaper, we caution against utterances like those made recently by the Opposition party about the foreign-exchange market. Charges of the resurgence of a black market can only serve to run down confidence in the foreign-exchange market, as well further depress the value of the local currency.
The central bank governor, while admitting to increased demand and tightness in the supply of United States currency during the previous quarter, underscored that the bank was capable of defending the value of the Jamaican dollar - pointing out that the net international reserves was equivalent to 14.1 weeks of goods and services imports. This is above the international benchmark of 12 weeks.
The governor also pointed out that the seasonal pre-Christmas demand by merchants for foreign exchange should ease for the third quarter.
If Audley Shaw, the opposition spokesman on finance, has credible evidence about a mushrooming black market for foreign exchange, he should present it to the relevant authorities. Screaming, like Chicken Little, that the sky is falling just isn't enough.
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