January 31, 2023

Cayman Islands opposition repeats call for technical and vocational training

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With over 500 people turning up for the National Community Enhancement (NICE) programme registration at the Lions Centre today (August 13, 2018), Opposition Shadow Minister for Labour and Immigration, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Alva Suckoo today said that programme was a continuing symbol of the Government’s failure to implement effective solutions to increasing unemployment among Caymanians.

“Much more effort is needed to identify and assist those who need the training and skills to equip them to take advantage of available jobs on a permanent basis,” Mr. Suckoo said, adding that he had been previously drawn attention to this concern. “I am once again highlighting that it is no longer an option to prioritize academic scholarships within an already inadequate education budget.”

As a backdrop to his concerns, Mr. Suckoo said that he was “alarmed that despite the Government’s claims that the economy is booming, with development on the rise and a hefty surplus in the Government coffers, the social and economic conditions of the average Caymanian have not been improving.”

Rather, Mr. Suckoo said, “The ever-increasing cost of living and the growing appetite for cheap labour have pushed many Caymanian families into poverty.”

To underscore the ineffectiveness of the NICE programme, “The number of people turning up for the now twice-yearly NICE jobs programme does not seem to be declining,” he said.

“Such band-aid solutions, while appreciated by the people at the time, do very little to help with long-term employment,” he said, adding: “What I want to see is a needs-driven approach to providing technical and vocational training at the levels required to equip Caymanians gain employment and to remain employable.”

The Labour and Immigration Shadow Minister said that the country could not continue “simply throwing cash at the problem and hoping it will go away.”

Among longer-term solutions, he called for Government to determine the areas of highest demand for work permits requiring skilled labour, and to offer technical scholarships for Caymanians who could be prepared to take those jobs.

“I have seen private companies such as Superior Auto making significant inroads in one area, but Government needs to exceed this effort and ensure that those Caymanians who are not candidates for academic study can also have the opportunity to continue their education,” he said, rather than continuing to prioritize academic scholarships to the detriment of the needs of other population sectors.  “Much more effort is needed to identify and assist those who need training and upgrading of technical and vocational skills.”

While championing the cause of the unemployed, Mr. Suckoo suggested also that employed workers who are not upgrading their skills may soon find themselves out of the job market as employers seek to upgrade their staffing requirements.

“It is a natural evolutionary process at the workplace; the only way to deal with this is through investing in our people,” Mr. Suckoo said.

Instead, he said, the Government has opted for short-term band aids: “It is very discouraging to know that over 500 people braved the blazing sun to get a few hundred dollars in their pockets as a short-term measure to take care of their families.”

Among the 500, Mr. Suckoo said, was a large segment of women, a new increasing statistic among the unemployed.

The Deputy Opposition Leader said that this growing phenomenon of employed persons among the Cayman sector of the workforce had been identified by former MLA Winston Connolly and himself in a Private Member’s Motion piloted in the Legislative Assembly in the last electoral term.

The motion, which was defeated by the Government bench, had asked that ten percent of the value payable for every work permit be set aside for educating and training Caymanians.

As another demonstration of neglect and inaction by Government, Mr. Suckoo, pointed to the failure by the Immigration Department to monitor Business Staffing Plans’ training and scholarship requirements, as specified in long-standing policies.

“Were this monitoring and tracking carried out effectively,” Mr. Suckoo said, “without even spending some of the Government surplus on scholarships, we could help so many people with the training they need to become employed and to remain employable.”

The bottom line “is that the Government needs to make education and training a priority and to fund it adequately,” Mr. Suckoo said, and added: “We are fixated on developing the cruise berthing, airport and other private developments, but if our people are not educated, trained and prepared, the benefits of all this development will go elsewhere.”

Making a final appeal, Mr. Suckoo said: “We need to give Caymanians a fighting chance. We cannot continue to pump money into the Needs Assessment Unit while increasing the frequency of these temporary job programmes.”

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