By Glenford Smith
JAMAICA 50 is an important milestone, which provides a golden opportunity for the nation to review and assess its past while envisioning and planning for its future. One area where this twin imperative is particularly critical is in workforce training and development.
It is now globally accepted that a nation's economic destiny is determined, in the final analysis, by the quality of its human resources. The wealth or poverty of a nation is a function of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of its people.
According to a Statistics Canada report published in 2010, "A rise of one per cent in literacy scores relative to the international average is associated with an eventual 2.5 per cent relative rise in labour productivity and a 1.5 per cent rise in GDP per head."
In 2009, the Government began the introduction of its Jamaica 2030 Vision Training Sector Plan by stating: "In an increasingly knowledge-based global economy, one of the key advantages that a country can offer is the quality of its human capital. A well-trained workforce is emerging as one of the key drivers of a country's prosperity and competitiveness."
This inextricable link between the education of Jamaica's labour force and the nation's socio-economic destiny is one which successive governments since Independence have recognised and sought to address. This article will look at some of the major developments in workforce training during Jamaica's first 50 years as well as the prospects for the next 50 years.
"The evolution of workforce training in Jamaica in the last 50 years corresponds directly with the movement from a primarily agriculture-based economy to a service economy," says Dr Christopher Tufton, executive director of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute based at the Mona School of Business, University of the West Indies, Mona. He claims that the service sector accounts for 75 per cent of GDP.
Workforce needs at the start of Jamaica's Independence revolved around exports such as semi-processed sugar, bananas, and lesser crops such as citrus, coffee, cocoa, and pimento. Then, Jamaica was also the leading producer of bauxite in the world.
In addition to importing skilled labour to meet the demands of these industries, technical secondary schools such as Holmwood Technical, Kingston Technical, and Dinthill Technical supplied workers with the basic technical competences.
The 1960s witnessed the profound recognition on the part of the Government that the country needed a more broad-based education system to equip the masses of the people to participate in and contribute to the developing labour force. Up to then, primary and secondary education were largely restricted to a privileged elite class.
A. Wesley Powell, founder of Excelsior High School/EXED, writes in his autobiography The Excelsior-EXED Story that many people saw the need for change in Jamaica's education system. He points out that the introduction of the Common Entrance Examination under Education Minister Florizel Glasspole was meant to give free places in secondary schools to "thousands of children instead of the few hundreds who traditionally went there because their parents could afford the fees and were from the middle-class "establishment'".
a New Deal in Education
The University College of the West Indies, now the University of the West Indies (UWI), founded in 1948, broke its ties with London University and became a degree-granting institution in its own right in 1962. The College of Arts, Science and Technology (C.A.S.T.), now the University of Technology (UTech), was founded in 1958. It also played a key role in workforce training in the early years of Jamaica's fledgling independent existence.
Dr Alfred Sangster, past president of the UTech, and author of The Making of a University: From CAST to UTech, writes that "the impact on technical training in Jamaica by the emergence of UTech was significant. It conferred legitimacy upon technical training as a valid entity in its own right. Before that, technical high schools were regarded as second-class citizens. By partnering with technical high schools, it helped to redefine technical and vocational training beyond relatively low-level skills like cooking and sewing."
As Jamaica sought to meet the labour needs of a developing independent nation in the 1970s, every effort was made, particularly under Education Minister Edwin Allen, to expand access to primary and secondary education across the island for all classes of citizens. He announced a New Deal in Education, a school-building programme, which received some assistance from the World Bank.
In 1982, one of the most important developments in workforce training in Jamaica took place: the HEART Trust/NTA was created by Prime Minister Edward Seaga. Cognisant that increasing unemployment threatened production and national development, Seaga said in his Budget speech that year that his Government would pay special attention to "the problem of the forgotten youth who had left school and had nowhere to go".
A three per cent payroll levy on the private sector provided the financial base for the establishment and maintenance of the HEART Trust/NTA. This was to fulfill the stated purpose of "enabling the provision of technical and vocational education in both the public and private sectors so as to sustain a competitive workforce consistent with the need for economic growth and development and to promote quality, relevance, efficiency, and equity in the training system".
In responding to the special needs of a changing workforce, the HEART Trust/NTA operates several different types of programmes: academies, the Jamaica-German Auto School, vocational training development programmes, a school leavers' programmes, and an apprenticeship programme. Sixty-two thousand nine hundred and seven persons were certified by HEART in the fiscal year 2007-08.
In addition to the HEART Trust/NTA, in 2001, the Government established the Management Institute for National Development (MIND). MIND offers training courses for public-sector entities. Numerous other institutions and programmes have emerged over the years to meet the changing needs of the Jamaican workforce: nine community colleges, nine teachers' colleges, the Jamaica Theological Seminary, the Jamaica Institute of Management, the College of Agriculture, Science and Education, the Vocational Training and Development Institute; new universities - The University College of the Caribbean, Northern Caribbean University.
There are also partnerships between local and overseas educational institutes such as New Orleans University and Nova South Eastern University.
As Jamaica operates within the context of a globalised economy based upon information and telecommunications technology (ICT), corporations, Government, and private entities increasingly require relevant training. Training institutions such as the Caribbean Institute of Technology, which specialises in software development training, the School of Business and Entrepreneurship at the UTech, as well as the UWI, all offer degree programmes in ICT.
Dr Horace Williams, acting head of the UTech's School of Business and Entrepreneurship, says that workforce training is moving quickly in the direction of distance learning. He predicts that "increasingly, students will no longer be willing to drive to a university campus to sit in a classroom when they are already connected to the World Wide Web".
Williams postulates that preparing the Jamaican workforce over the next 50 years requires the training of a new kind of worker. The worker of the future will have to be entrepreneurial and innovative. He or she will also have to combine technical and theoretical knowledge with good work habits of discipline, flexibility, self-confidence, initiative, and a broad-based approach and commitment to lifelong education.
Thomas McArdle of the HEART Trust/NTA, in a chapter titled 'Workforce Education and Development in Jamaica' in the book International Perspectives on Workforce Education and Development, identifies the challenges Jamaica will face in the future.
He notes: "The low academic base of the trainee population creates problems for the training system ... Training programmes are also less optimally effective for the economy due to the low amount of job creation and high output migration of skilled individuals from Jamaica."
In addition to government initiatives aimed at addressing Jamaica's 20 per cent illiteracy problem and similarly high innumeracy levels, there is a growing trend towards public-private partnerships as well as partnerships between non-governmental organisations and the Government.
In commemoration of Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence, for instance, Food For the Poor recently launched its Jamaica 50 campaign. This involves the building and refurbishing of 50 basic schools and the training of 50 early-childhood teachers over a 50-month period at a cost of $150 million.
It is hard to predict what the work world would be like in 50 years' time, even as it would have been difficult to do so at Independence in 1962. What is certain, however, is that the education and skill level of Jamaica's workforce will continue to be a main determinant in its economic and social progress. Only a dynamic, responsive, and continually evolving national workforce training programme can prepare Jamaica to meet the fast-changing needs of the fast-changing work world. Such a programme will need to consist of the following features:
The development by the Government of a coherent and comprehensive human resource development plan to exploit emerging opportunities in tourism, ICT, manufacturing, and the maritime sector;
Expansion and intensification of online training modalities to take advantage of the anticipated rise in domestic Internet connectivity and mobile technology;
Strategic partnerships between Government, community groups, and the private sector to drastically reduce the level of illiteracy and innumeracy through programmes to strengthen early-childhood education;
Programmes to reduce the 70 per cent rate of labour force non-certification in academic and skills training;
Development of an entrepreneurial culture - through teaching and support systems - to mitigate the problem where 50 per cent of tertiary graduates are unable to find a job.
Glenford Smith is a motivational speaker and success strategist. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.