Change of HEART
PM says agency to offer free skills training up to associate degrees in several disciplines
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has directed the HEART/NSTA Trust to remove all tuition requirements for courses up to associate degrees for all qualified Jamaicans, to give thousands an opportunity to get skills training in a variety of disciplines.
The agency, which is based in the Office of the Prime Minister, has also been directed to modernise its offerings in response to global trends in automation, smart manufacturing, artificial intelligence, and high-value services.
HEART is also developing centres of excellence and STEAM – science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics – labs at several of its campuses, the prime minister said on Thursday as he made his contribution to the Budget Debate.
“Madam Speaker, in furtherance of the policy directive to increase the size of the trained labour force, effective April 1, 2023, the HEART/NSTA Trust will remove all tuition and administrative fees for its programmes up to level 4 (associate degree). This will allow for access to vocational training for all Jamaicans, regardless of economic status,” said Holness, hailing the move as a game-changer for poor, underserved youth.
While he did not disclose how much the change would cost per year, the prime minister said it was necessary based on the levels of high unemployment and lack of skills, which are historical features of the Jamaican society.
He told the Parliament that Jamaica was approaching full employment with an unemployment rate in the region of six per cent, which he deemed a positive sign for the country.
But, he argued, there was also a need to replenish the force in skills training.
“ … At this level of employment, there will be labour shortages, which will impact business operations and output. A labour shortage can become a constraint on growth and we have been hearing complaints from various sectors. The problem is not that we do not have the people to work,” Holness reasoned.
“There are approximately 739,000 Jamaicans who are outside the labour force, and we estimate that approximately 150,000 are unattached youths who are not actively seeking employment. The policy objective now must be to get more Jamaicans into the labour force with work-ready attitudes and requisite skills at all levels,” he told the House.
Holness said that HEART’s executive director, Dr Taneisha Ingleton, has been charged by the board to increase recruitment and better align training with industries.
Currently, Holness said, 133,577 trainees are enrolled in courses, and 50,632 have been certified, an increase of 48 per cent over the previous year. A cohort tracer study of graduates conducted during the 2022-2023 financial year showed that 91 per cent were working full-time jobs, and 83 per cent indicated that they utilised the technical skills learnt in their current or previous jobs, he stated.
The College of Innovation and Technology will focus on information security, mobile application development and mobile robotics; the Chocolate Hole campus will offer vocational training such as optoelectronics, mechatronics, robotics, programme logic control, geomatics and geospatial services, industrial electronics and renewable energy; and the National Tools and Engineering Institute has established a STEAM lab focused on training in renewable energy, with additional labs to come to focus on other areas.
HEART’s College of Construction will host a centre of excellence focusing on welding and industrial automation, and Ebony Park Academy will host a centre of excellence focusing on soil testing and tissue culture.
Holness noted that HEART continues to forge strategic partnerships with stakeholders to provide competent workers to meet the needs of industries. It has partnered with Amber Group Limited to promote software innovation at the Amber/HEART Coding Institute. Some 500 youth will be trained under the agreement.
Another partnership includes China Harbour Engineering Company Limited, for the training and certification of unskilled workers. Youth from some of the violence-prone communities in western Jamaica will be the primary recruits.
The agency will also partner with the Jamaica Defence Force to boost recruitment through the Jamaica National Service Corps programme by 2,000 trainees.
Holness said HEART will continue its collaboration with the Ministry of Education’s HOPE/LEGS programme “to provide a special internship for 500 promising fifth- and sixth-form graduates who have not matriculated to further studies, to secure placement in government entities or private-sector partners, for one year.
During the internship, participants will be supported with a stipend of $70,000 monthly and assisted with the establishment of bank accounts and passports and other civil documents, Holness announced. A compulsory savings component will see each candidate receiving a lump sum of $120,000 after completion, a mirroring of the National Youth Service of the 1970s, which had a compulsory savings component.