This writer met a very old friend on a street corner in the Virgin Islands on a recent Wednesday. The man is a political bigwig in these parts and from a very prominent family of Virgin Gorda.
As expected, the talk was all politics. The great man stated that the territory is missing it in terms of job opportunities for youth. He stated that St. Lucia and St. Vincent both have trade schools, and are turning out some of the most technically skilled workers and tradespeople in the Caribbean. This is a boon to their economies and job development.
He further stated that the best place to find a good tradesperson — whether for air-conditioning, refrigeration, carpentry, roofing, masonry, or a host of other skills and trades — is St. Lucia.
He also said that the lack of vocational skills is damaging the Virgin Islands’ workforce. He sniggered at a number of aliens with “dubious” skillsets who came into the VI to work after Hurricane Irma to repair the territory.
The three Rs
Over the years, this writer has observed that there is a reluctance of parents in the VI — especially professional types — to let their kids go into the vocations and trades. Instead, the stress is on the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. This is a tragedy as far as this writer is concerned. It is certainly a gap in an economy that requires a skilled workforce to drive social prosperity.
There are numerous children and youth — many of whom are quite bright academically — who prefer doing things with their hands. Academia, for these kids, is actually “torture.” Frequently, these are the kids who give trouble in class.
They are the sort who beam with light when given a task such as sawing wood to make a bench; placing wire in insulation to link with an electricity hub; getting oily unscrewing a bolt on a car or motorbike engine; placing block after block when building a wall; climbing a ladder to build a roof; or chopping onions in a kitchen managed by a very particular and bossy chef.
There is great satisfaction working outdoors in a tropical climate: repairing and maintaining boats; handling earth movers; or ambling in the hot sun bush-whacking, gardening or landscaping.
From doing beauty work in a salon offering pedicures and manicures to operating a printing machine for a variety of tasks, the list of the vocations is endless.
The vocations are the foundation for an economy that will be driven by skillsets that drive job growth, gross domestic product, and economic productivity.
And the vocations pay well in the VI. On these islands, a good plumber, carpenter or builder is worth their “weight in gold.” And the skilled worker has a job for life, unlike the office worker who is frequently dependent on the whims of aliens in foreign capitals with no emotional attachment to the VI, who can move assets elsewhere at the click of a mouse.
VI leaders, then, must focus on the vocations as part of a vision of the future that leads to El Dorado.
All over the world, business leaders are waking up to the fact that there is a great need for technically skilled vocational workers.
Economic productivity depends on the quality of technical skills possessed by a population.
The time is ripe for the establishment of an independent trade school built by both the public and private sector, with the territory’s leading technical men and women on the board of governors, and the core of a VI apprenticeship programme that will drive jobs and economic growth in the future.
In fact, this writer will go as far as stating that all students in the VI should learn at least one vocational skill to full competency as part of their learning and preparation for the world of work, as is required in a number of other Caribbean countries.
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