Sean Major-Campbell | Life is more than subjects
THERE IS much talk about the need for a skilled labour force in Jamaica. It is rather unfortunate that given the capacity of the Human Employment and Resource Training/National Service Training Agency (HEART/NSTA) Trust programme to train in a wide cross section of skills, we are in this position. Sadly, one of the reasons why more of our youth are not drawn to this master programme which has produced many skilled persons who are serving all over the world, is our own system which has educators discouraging students from looking at the HEART/NSTA Trust as a viable option after high school.
The HEART/NSTA Trust is tasked with providing technical vocational education and training in Jamaica.
This human capital development agency has had a rich history of supplying a skilled labour force for the engines of industry and commerce. What has happened then, why the attendant benefits of volunteerism, mentorship and adult literacy are not being realised?
It is an open secret that many teachers, in an effort to motivate students to aim high, deliberately demean HEART/NSTA Trust, as they let the children know that it would be a disgrace to leave high school and go to HEART. Right now, there are school-leavers who could be in a skills training programme; but they have been so mentally conditioned against it.
I am a proud graduate of the first graduating class of Runaway Bay HEART Academy (RBHA), where I specialised in food preparation. I graduated with the Jamaica Tourist Board’s award for being the Most Outstanding Trainee in Tourism Awareness. And, by the way, I knew before I did this course of study that I wanted to explore a call to holy orders. At the time, I had applied to what was known then as CAST (College of Arts, Science, and Technology), now UTech, Jamaica, to do institutional and catering management. Both places called me at the same time. I chose RBHA, now known as Cardiff Hotel and Spa.
We are a society that has made a big deal about having many subjects. We have forgotten that many of our most skilled and committed Jamaicans do not always have a long list of subjects, let alone even entry-level qualifications. Some of our most effective professionals did not leave high school with all the subjects required for their current area of successful service.
The reality is that some of our very intelligent children, for whatever reason, do not get even the basic math and English upon leaving high school. I want them to know that it is not too late for them to try again. Sometimes you just need a change of environment. We are not talking about the fact that the COVID era has seen many of our children being challenged to spend much of their high-school time online and missing out on much-needed social exchange.
Then, some schools only speak about a few ‘respectable’ professions, while ignoring the many children who have no interest in some of these traditionally esteemed status symbols. The time has long come for us to tell all our children that it is okay to be a smart and skilled mason, electrician, mechanic, carpenter, bus driver, taxi driver, farmer, vendor, barber, nail technician, and so on. And it is okay to aspire to be one of these.
Church can be a space where many young people feel judged as they hear the affirmations and celebrations of those who got through with the PEP for top high schools and those who got 40 CSEC subjects. The reality, however, is that most of the movers and shakers of society are humble folk without the ‘top high school’ profile.
I sometimes marvel at the image of those who can afford nursing/caregiver services in later life. They often discover that their caregiver/medicine supervisor/health manager/companion help/food server all in one, is most times never one of the celebrated high-school graduates. Some even provide spiritual support through reading scripture, leading prayers, and using the faith resource to give encouragement.
If our education and religious systems are not teaching a value system that has positive regard for lifelong learning and skills training, we should not be surprised when we have an unskilled labour force. The worse is when our children feel condemned for not meeting the expectations of identifying with celebrated professions in personality/career development presentations! The average reality for most of us is a testimony to Proverbs 24:16, which reminds us that even the righteous fall, but get up when they do. “A righteous person falls down seven times and gets up!”
I am leaving this African proverb with our children this week: “If you are building a house and a nail breaks, do you stop building, or do you change the nail?” Let us start changing broken nails this week.