Government is working to create a new labour policy that will address issues including rising unemployment in the territory, according to Deputy Premier Lorna Smith.
Ms. Smith — who is the minister of financial services, labour and trade — said during a recent House of Assembly meeting that she has reached out to the International Labour Organisation for technical assistance on an extensive labour-market analysis.
“A well-crafted labour policy would provide specific provisions for the most vulnerable groups, including youth, women, and people with disabilities,” she said during the Sept. 7 HOA sitting in response to a question from the opposition. “It will help address their unique challenges and barriers to employment.”
Ms. Smith also noted that a “wealthy benefactor” has pledged $1 million “towards fostering local entrepreneurship” in the territory.
“I view this as the beginning of great things to come, and I encourage others in the private sector to emulate this laudable gesture,” she said.
She didn’t name the donor or provide further details about the contribution.
During the question-and-answer session in the HOA, opposition member Mitch Turnbull asked Ms. Smith to provide details on specific initiatives she plans to implement before the end of the year to address the “most concerning national issue” of unemployment.
The minister said she plans to “resurrect” the National Business Bureau and provide direct benefits to prospective entrepreneurs.
She also stressed the importance of providing training, business mentorship, micro-financing and other resources needed to start and expand a business, especially to young entrepreneurs.
She added that she hopes to accomplish this goal with the help of local banks, stating that she has emphasised the “necessity of enhancing their support for business startups.”
She also called for more support from the business and philanthropic community.
“It is clear to me that the government cannot shoulder that responsibility alone,” she said. “Hence, during my ongoing engagements with businesses, I have underscored the need for a collaborative approach in training, retooling, and upskilling the local workforce to adapt to changing needs.”
Ms. Smith also highlighted the work currently undertaken by the RATED Programme — a workforce development initiative — and other labour market initiatives.
Those include work-placement schemes, apprenticeships, and “reskilling programmes” aimed at helping the unemployed gain work experience and learn new skills, she said.
The deputy premier also reiterated her pledge to provide scholarships for students to participate in the fintech progamme at the Robert Mathavious Institute at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College.
‘Seize these opportunities’
Economic growth and inward investment will also be key to bolstering employment opportunities, she added.
“The Ministry of Financial Services, Labour and Trade will persistently strive to identify and to seize these opportunities to benefit the people of the Virgin Islands,” she said.