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Skills gap in The Bahamas has ‘grown worse’

The skills gap in The Bahamas has grown worse in the past eight years, Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) President Dr. Robert W. Robertson said during a “Skills Gap Town Hall 2020” panel discussion held at Breezes resort on West Bay Street.

Robertson made the comments following the release of results of a workforce survey carried out by the institution. 

The survey showed that a lack of skills among potential employees remains a “significant challenge in hiring” for a large number of businesses on New Providence, as 65.48 percent of 113 businesses surveyed cited “literacy and numeracy skills of candidates” as the major challenge. 

Applicants being “under-qualified”, in addition to lacking soft skills, technical skills and relevant experience, were further identified as the top factors contributing to hiring challenges. 

The results further showed that in the category of soft skills, a positive attitude and communication were tied for the most important; followed closely by problem solving and teamwork. 

Referring to a 2012 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) survey titled “In Pursuit of Employable Skills”, which outlined “the most frequently-cited difficulty in hiring new staff was” under-qualification at 34 percent, followed by lack of experience at 29 percent and lack of soft skills at 28 percent, Robertson said the survey shows there has been little progress in the last near decade. 

“So, the skills gap basically shows that there is a series of problems. One of them is around literacy and numeracy, and so in excess of 60 percent of respondents suggest this is a serious issue,” Robertson said on Thursday.

He added, “We also see a significant problem in terms of some of the soft skills that the minister [of education] spoke about. Time management, for example, and things like that. But also in terms of the capabilities that are needed for employees generally. 

“So, the survey, in terms of the comparison to 2012’s, is kind of similar, but a little worse. So, the gap didn’t actually narrow in the last eight or nine years, it’s basically stayed the same or actually in fact it’s gotten worse… So these data have, I think, illustrated a continuing problem, and in fact a growing problem.”

The BTVI report also showed that almost 55 percent of respondents felt that “workforce training initiatives” in the country are not successful, but also that almost 60 percent did not actively seek financial training support programs from government or other sources.

Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd, who gave the keynote address at the event, highlighted government’s efforts to invest in education, including making BTVI tuition-free for full-time students in 2018; its distance learning initiatives; introducing dual education programs where high school students also enroll in BTVI classes and encouraging technology-focused education. 

“The national development plan, in its draft form, identified that this country suffers a national skills deficit,” Lloyd said. 

“And how unfortunate. [T]his Bahamas must change its intellectual and commercial paradigms, its mental orientations, its educational strategic designs or be relegated to the dustbin of history.

“We have few advantages that compel anyone, even our own citizens, to demand that they do business with us.

“Therefore, an intentional, sustained, undistracted pursuit of closing the skills gap here – through TVETs (technical vocational education and training) and other educational enterprises, and the expanded social consciousness – can and will augur a beneficial future for this country. But we must start now.”

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