The skills gap

Many businesses are exasperated by the continued misalignment between staffing needs and the graduates our school system produces.

The recent release of the results of a workforce survey conducted by the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) reveals that our education system continues to fall short in producing adequate numbers of suitably trained graduates ready and able to fill the needs of the Bahamian economy.

Employers complain that many seeking employment do not possess basic skills essential for all employees: literacy, numeracy and the ability to master the use of materials, tools or technology.

The survey also revealed a deficit in soft skills; those traits and skills that help individuals become employed and remain so. These include communication (language), motivation, commitment, flexibility, dependability and good time management.

The Bahamas is not alone in experiencing these problems. Reports on skills gaps from the developed world as well as from other small developing countries are not dissimilar to our experience.

Notwithstanding, we have achieved considerable success in training large numbers of persons to fill many positions in our economy.

In the building trade, suitably qualified and experienced Bahamians have largely obviated the need for foreign recruits in many areas.

Similarly in hotel management, in food and beverage management, banking and finance, medicine, healthcare, law and general education, our training success has proven fairly successful.

The “brain drain” of qualified Bahamians to more lucrative employment in the developed world contributes to a shortage of some skills in some areas of the economy as many trained Bahamians elect to live and work abroad, filling positions as nurses, doctors, teaching specialists, accountants, engineers, architects or other construction specialists.

The skills gap in technical and vocational areas is manifested by schools, including government-operated and private institutions that must continue to recruit maths, science, foreign language and technical and vocational teachers internationally.

The lack of trainers in schools but also in the private sector is evident in the gradual abandonment of the apprenticeship system which in earlier times provided for the transfer of trade skills to new entrants to the job market.

Concerns about the employment of international persons in our economy gained additional traction in recent times because of the engagement of hundreds of Chinese nationals on hotel construction projects at Baha Mar and The Pointe.

Engaged as a result of agreements to facilitate investment, many of these work permit holders did not fill posts that could not be filled from the local labour pool, aggravating Bahamian sensibilities at a time of high unemployment in the country.

Moreover, the transfer of skills that occurred during the construction of the various phases of the Kerzner resort on Paradise Island, when significant numbers of foreign workers were also engaged, did not occur at Baha Mar and the Pointe because the numbers of Bahamians engaged on the projects were comparatively low, providing fewer opportunities for Bahamians to work alongside foreign skilled workers engaged on those projects when compared to the Kerzner experience.

Additionally, the presence of significant numbers of other foreign nationals, many from Central and South American countries, at high-end residential construction sites compound concerns that Bahamians are being displaced even from positions where suitably qualified Bahamians abound.

The results of the BTVI workforce survey demonstrate that there is an ongoing need for more focused, uninterrupted attention to skills building – both hard and soft – at all levels of the school system.

And, there is a critical need for additional training in highly skilled technical and vocational fields.

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