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Jobs at snail's pace - Gov't-private sector jobs programme being stifled by weak economy

Published:Tuesday | March 5, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Trevor Fearon, CEO of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

THE MUCH-heralded Jamaica Employ programme has been slow in providing jobs to Jamaicans as local businesses wilt under the pressure of a sagging economy.

Trevor Fearon, CEO of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), says the programme "has not taken off to the degree that we would have liked".

"I don't think it has been a surprise that it has not (taken off) because the economic circumstances have been changing within the past several months, and that is going to have an impact on the job sector," Fearon told The Gleaner.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller had said the Jamaica Employ initiative, which was launched last September, would advance national development.

"We could immediately reduce unemployment by 40,000 over the short term, and I am sure, as Jamaicans, we can," she said.

The programme, which is underpinned by a memorandum of understanding between the Government and the JCC, is built on the understanding that, where possible, businesses would seek to employ at least one more qualified Jamaican within their organisation.

But Fearon said the economic environment has been a major challenge in this regard.

"You will find that there are a number of businesses that are trying to achieve or maintain competitiveness, which finds it very difficult to create jobs in this environment," Fearon said.

He added: "That is going to be a challenge but as we have told our members, you can't hope to have economic growth if you don't have economic growth. We continue to encourage our members, whether they find it possible to look at this window as an opportunity to find people who have skills."

Wayne Chen, president of the Jamaica Employers' Federation (JEF), said while his organisation has not carried out any formal survey, he did not believe there has been mass hiring under the Jamaica Employ programme.

"There was a certain amount of enthusiasm, and it has been tempered by the current realisation that there will be an austerity programme going forward," Chen told The Gleaner.

Chen also said several private-sector entities have been taking on a few people, "But given developments, there will be certain levels of caution in terms of any business taking on liabilities at this time".

He added: "Given the fact that there has been a loss in consumer confidence in the last quarter of 2012 and pushing into this quarter, the austerity measures that have been recently announced means that many business have to be very conservative going forward."

Look for opportunities

The JEF boss, however, said "people should not just be looking a work, they should also be looking for opportunities for themselves".

He has urged young persons to take advantage of technology as well as to explore job opportunities elsewhere in the Caribbean Community.

"We have to be more enterprising and seek opportunities. Opportunities are not just jobs in established enterprises, it's creating new things," Chen said.

Up to press time yesterday, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security had not responded to questions about the performance of the Jamaica Employ programme to date. Similarly, attempts to reach Everton Pryce, the Government's point man on the issue, proved futile.

In the meantime, Fearon said employers are slowly seeing the possibilities of finding talent by way of the Jamaica Employ database which has been created by the labour ministry.

"We would anticipate in the next months that there will be greater take-up as the knowledge gets more and more disseminated into the business community," Fearon said.

The JCC CEO has urged jobseekers to ensure they have the skill sets that will make them competitive in the market.

"We strongly believe the economy will get better if we make the right decisions, and that will augur well for greater job creation," Fearon said.