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BCA president: Skills transfer must happen at Baker’s Bay

Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) President Michael Pratt said yesterday it’s up to the developers of Baker’s Bay to ensure the proper skills transfer from those 135 Mexican specialized workers to Bahamians.

Some Bahamians were in an uproar last week upon the arrival of the Mexican nationals from the Global Workforce – a group that specializes in the recovery and reconstruction of hurricane-ravaged communities – even though the government had indicated from last year that Baker’s Bay developers had requested work permits for the foreign laborers.

Pratt said while the private developer has the right to choose which companies work on its project, its heads of agreement signed with the government would have stipulated some skills transfer, which he hopes is applied in this instance.

“That’s mentioned in the heads of agreement already. It’s up to them now to ensure that they do what they have committed to, to assist Bahamians. It would be to their advantage, because if they train and we have a problem or they have a problem and they need a home built, the Bahamians will be able to go in and fix it for them,” Pratt told Guardian Business yesterday.

“Those Mexicans, they may not be able to bring them en masse again, or one or two. They need to train Bahamians to do this work, whatever work they say Bahamians can’t provide the skill set for.”

Baker’s Bay has stated that the additional support from the specialized workers is critical to its goal of completing its reconstruction of the luxury high-end community on Guana Cay by the end of this year.

“Baker’s Bay has a need to urgently go through a number of homes and they are claiming that they can’t find certain skill sets here and they bring in the skill sets they need. Again, this is a private developer that chose to do that. Now we advocate, we go there and educate our workers to get them certified in most cases. A lot of our workers are qualified but they are not certified,” Pratt said.

To that end, Pratt said the BCA is seeking to bridge the skills gap among construction workers by partnering with Valencia College in Florida to train and certify up to 1,000 workers by December.

“We’re trying to educate our workers to get them certified with some accelerated courses. We’re working with Valencia College through BTVI (Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute). BTVI and Valencia College have signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) to begin training. The BCA has signed an MOU with BTVI to get this training as fast as possible to our workers. We are starting tomorrow with the first cohort of trainers,” he said.

“Every aspect of construction you could imagine, we will be providing certification over a period of time. So, we’re starting with the basics like carpentry and welding and sheet rock and those types of things, but over time we will be providing basic accounting, basic business management, estimating, plan reading. There will be certification in every aspect of construction. So, no longer will people be able to say that we have an untrained workforce.”

Pratt said the course will be offered with dual enrollment so that students in high school can complete BTVI and college credits.

“When you leave high school they’ll give you the credits toward BTVI if they intend to further their education at BTVI, and also creating so that they can transfer right into Valencia College and other colleges. We’re trying to get our skilled workers prepared for the market. We have a lot of senior guys who have a lot of experience, so this will be accelerated training so that they can get in quickly and get out. We don’t want to keep them for a year or two, we’re talking about making certification in weeks. And this is totally free. So that’s our answer to make sure that at least we put a dent in this skills gap problem. Our objective is to try and train a thousand by December and certify a thousand,” he said.

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