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EDITORIAL - A predictable death

Published:Wednesday | July 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM

As anyone with commonsensical understanding of business or economics could have predicted, the Government's Jamaica Employ initiative has atrophied and died. There was never much to the idea. We can only believe, therefore, that when the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce supported the project, it was merely because its president, Francis Kennedy, felt compelled to humour a government recently elected with a strong mandate.

Jamaica Employ, as we understood, represented an appeal to the altruism of firms which were being asked to employ people in order to address Jamaica's chronic problem of joblessness, especially among young people. By Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's estimates, if each firm hired one individual, 40,000 persons would get jobs. In turn, their ability to consume would help kick-start a limping economy.

But the idea was neither business nor economics. For Jamaica Employ was not grounded in economic activity, or policy initiatives, to which firms responded by investing and creating jobs. Rather, they were being asked merely to add a cost item to their profit and loss accounts, without necessarily adding value, or enhancing a company's efficiency.

Or, put another way, if it had worked, it would have been a success of corporate philanthropy - social welfare, whose cost was being shifted from the Government to the private sector. In any event, Jamaica Employ competed with existing private-sector social-responsibility efforts.

The business class does a fair bit of that through individual initiatives as well as the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica's expansive job-training and placement project, Youth Upliftment Through Education. Firms also contribute through the placement of young people from the National Youth Service.

The larger point is that while there may be a place for short-term job projects, similar to those sometimes employed by governments as social safety valves, private firms cannot be homes of make-work schemes paid for by burdened shareholders or to merely respond to hand-over-heart calls to benevolence.


It would make more sense if the labour and education ministries and their respective agencies developed with the private sector regulated and appropriately invigilated apprenticeship schemes that would work to the benefit of all partners in the effort.

For example, tertiary students who are part of apprenticeship systems - especially in designated priority areas, or agree to work in specific areas of the public sector for minimum periods, might be afforded rebates on their education loans. Moreover, firms might receive enhanced tax allowances for operating certified apprenticeship schemes. Such programmes could also be part of the high-school curriculum to keep students in school for an additional year, which policymakers have long talked about.

Any such scheme, however, has to be seriously thought out and robustly analysed and tested before implementation. That can't be launched on the basis of whim by a leader in the afterglow of an election victory.

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