TRAIN MORE YOUTH
Gov’t urged to boost skills-training drive instead of importing labour
WESTERN BUREAU: Head of the Incorporated Masterbuilders Association of Jamaica, Lenworth Kelly, wants unattached Jamaican youth “pulled off the corners” and put to work instead of construction workers being sought from overseas to work in the...
Head of the Incorporated Masterbuilders Association of Jamaica, Lenworth Kelly, wants unattached Jamaican youth “pulled off the corners” and put to work instead of construction workers being sought from overseas to work in the island.
Kelly – like a number of other Jamaicans, including Opposition Leader Mark Golding – was rejecting comments made by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the country is facing a labour shortage and may be forced to import workers.
“Where is the data that shows there is a labour shortage?” asked Kelly, who represents a large group of companies involved in construction islandwide.
Pointing out that he was not aware of a shortage at this time, Kelly admitted that there was heightened activity in the sector, so workers are in demand geographically, but that this did not mean foreigners must be brought into the island to push wheelbarrows.
Holness made the statement during the groundbreaking ceremony for the RIU Aquarelle in Trelawny on Wednesday. He qualified his statement, noting that there was no shortage of people.
“What we are short of is labour. To be counted as part of the labour force, there are some standards that you have to meet. You have to be 16 years and older, and you have to be actively seeking work over a certain period of time,” he explained.
Of note is the fact that 95 per cent of RIU constructions are done by Jamaican workers.
“Very few craftsmen are taken into the country, and they only come in if they are experts in a certain type of tiling,” one local contractor, who has been working with the company for 20 years, told The Gleaner.
Holness noted that seven major projects were in the pipeline for the north coast, but Kelly said that having known that this was the case, the Government should have structured a programme aimed at training people to meet that demand, adding that he is in full support of the mandatory youth service suggested by the prime minister three weeks ago.
“Put them into technical areas of training, into artisans, carpentry, etc,” said the master builder head.
He admits that the country has lost some of its skilled people to places such as the United States, where they can earn more, but noted that there remain several certified electricians, quantity surveyors, carpenters, labourers, land surveyors, who will do the job wherever it takes them across the island.
He pointed to the government electrical regulator (GER) as the gold standard, where hundreds of electricians, for example, can be found, and those not licensed can work under a licensed electrician.
Kelly wants the Government to play its role in mitigating any chance of having to import labour, adding that should any expert come into the country, they should be paired with Jamaicans who can learn from them.
Two years ago, when the Government announced plans to have the Chinese work on the bypass road for Montego Bay, Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke had said that knowledge-sharing between the Asians and the Jamaicans would be key, calming the nerves of those who opposed it.
Golding has called on the prime minister to take responsibility for the training enterprise of the country, especially since the HEART/NSTA Trust falls under his purview.
“He cannot be saying he wants to drape up HEART because HEART is not delivering. The buck stops with him. And the truth is that HEART has not been delivering,” Golding stated.
The Gleaner was unable to get a comment from HEART up to news time as the agency’s communications arm said it would respond to the concerns today.
Golding said he has been meeting with senior executives in the business process outsourcing industry, who have been telling him that they are facing serious problems because they cannot find suitable untrained workers. He argued that this was going to stymie and restrict the growth in the global services industry.
“Here we have the prime minister talking about construction jobs and having to import persons overseas, when there are so many Jamaicans who want the opportunity to work in construction sites and so many youths who are turned into other things which we do not want because they can’t find work,” he said.
Golding said that he has no problem importing technical skills that can then be transferred to Jamaicans where there are gaps but not people to do basic construction jobs.
The country is also faced with the migration of tourism workers to greener pastures and the springing up of international agencies on the country’s shores luring those who have already been trained.
Area Chapter Chair of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association in Montego Bay, Nadine Spence, confirmed that hoteliers were having difficulty finding skilled or specialised workers, and up to three weeks ago, one investor was seeking 400 employees and was staging career fairs as far as St Elizabeth.
She believes that HEART is unable to train the workers as fast as they are needed, but the Tourism Enhancement Fund-financed Jamaica Centre for Tourism Innovation (JCTI) has been complementing the organisation through training.
Her biggest concern, though, is the fact that university students need to be re-educated and reacquainted with the sector.
Having gone through two years out of jobs in the sector due to the pandemic, many have changed their focus to other areas.
“The Jamaican people are a vital aspect of filling the void. Guests will tell you they return to Jamaica because of the people,” Spence said.