The training of Virgin Islands youth for the critical hands-on and vocational skills required by the economy is a necessity.
There has been a lot in the news recently on the anomalies of a workforce culture that keeps on importing migrant labour to the detriment of VI society.
Recently, a minister and politician warned of the unsustainability of a workforce that is 70 percent alien. When there is this type of imbalance, it spills over into the wider community and impacts the wider culture, mostly negatively.
When migrant labour comes from places where the culture is similar to the VI culture — Guyana, Grenada, Antigua, Anguilla and Trinidad, for example — then economic migration is sustainable, albeit numbers must be strictly controlled.
However, culture sets that are vastly different from the VI type can drive division and xenophobia, especially in a tiny community. Though politically incorrect, the culture of migrants is a factor when deciding what type of migrant to welcome into a society.
Now, the fact is that some 70 percent of VI youth migrate to the United States and elsewhere after leaving school to seek “better opportunities.” And most of these youth remain in the US permanently.
Caribbean migrants to the US are caught up in the culture type and values set of the US. This is a culture of an endless credit and debt cycle with a consume-and-spend orientation and higher taxes.
After a lifetime in the US, most migrants remain “struggling,” often one paycheque removed from the debt collector.
In the US, our kids may earn vastly higher wages, but they frequently face discrimination and worse.
Feedback from a number of African migrants in the US reveals a high level of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life there, in spite of the economic benefits. The saying is valid: Money is not everything.
In the end, those kids who remain in their own land for work and life will ultimately be better off. The geography and local culture is a natural cocoon, shield and fortress against a cold world across the channel.
The migration of a significant percentage of the native population means the VI economy requires migrant labour to function as replacement labour.
The problem with this is that the learning skills in various areas of the economy — from construction and building maintenance to auto and culinary, maritime, landscaping, and much more — are lost to VI youth for good, and the economy has to depend on migrant labour for these critical disciplines permanently.
And these migrants are the beneficiaries of this precious learning in technical and vocational skills, not our own children.
The solution is obvious. It is culture change. This writer frequently emphasises that the most successful people economically in the islands are vocationally trained, hands-on men and women. The vast majority of jobs, careers and businesses are in the vocations. This is a cultural and economic reality in the VI and wider Caribbean that is not going to change any time soon.
Consequently, it is time to reorient the learning culture. The country must build a trade school linked with a national apprenticeship program. On the board of the trade school will sit the men and women who run the local economy: the multi-millionaire plumber and super store owner, the powerful quarry owners, the boatyard manager, the car dealers, the building contractors, the heavy equipment operators, the oil and gas company, the electricity corporation, and so on and so forth.
This is a call for the business community to collectively mentor VI youth to build a future where our young people become the businessmen and women of tomorrow, owning and driving the economy and job growth for the benefit of their own territory.
If the VI as a community fails to do this most critical task in ensuring the future of our youth through apprenticeship and commercial mentoring, and looks only to the bottom line, when we all inevitably pass on the territory will be taken over by alien cultures and our kids will becomes slaves in their own land. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
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