By Ambrose Phillip
This week we opted to use this article as this week’s editorial with the hope of bringing attention to the unemployment situation which has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The writer has put together some suggestions that can be useful in dealing with the situation.
Every year about over fifteen hundred teenagers exit the secondary school system. The Ministry of Education’s section on the Government’s web portal indicates that in the period 2009/2010 some 1537 students graduated. This rose to 2096 in the 2003/2004 period. These are the only figures available on the site. Another significant number, perhaps up to 600 students, graduate from TAMCC annually; enrolment there is about 2500 students in its three and four-year programmes.
The local job market absorbs about 1200 teenagers annually, according to data from the National Insurance Scheme. This, in 2017, represented about half of the 2456 newly engaged employees according to the NIS 2017 Annual Report. This was a significant decline from the 3737 it recorded in 2013. The job market uptake of secondary school graduates is about one-third of each year’s graduates. These young adults replace retirees from both the established private sector businesses and the public service. Here the public service is intended to include state-owned entities that, by and large, provide public and other goods and services most, if not all of which, were once provided by the central government.
Another 10% or so, probably up to 250 young souls, exit the state entirely, joining the diaspora by virtue of family connections or, taking their chances on vacations that evolve into prolonged residence. A smaller number pursue tertiary studies from Barbados to China albeit that some 90% or so of them re-enter the local economy three or four years later.
A significant remainder, perhaps over 700 youngsters, remain and join the ranks of the unemployed or under-employed. A couple hundred may benefit from itinerant Government programmes such as the IMANI arrangement. Here however there are basic stipends, little structured and certified training or capacity development, no permanence, and, therefore, no long-term prospects.
The Hon Prime Minister’s post Covid19 Economic Committee did not seem to have been specifically tasked with exploring job creation and unemployment reduction within its mandates. It is submitted that unemployment alleviation through the creation of meaningful and lasting jobs must be a pillar of the post Covid19 Grenadian economy. In this respect the following are proposed:
i)Restoration of the Nursing School that has been moved from the Ministry of Health to some arrangement between TAMCC and the SGU. Two advantages of the former arrangement were that it afforded the nursing students stipends, and, secondly, on-the-job training was provided by way of attachments and rotation in the hospitals and medical facilities around the country. A disadvantage of what now prevails is that nursing students are required to pay tuition and other fees, a requirement that may limit intake from families that may face economic hardship.
The area of nursing education is identified because of the huge demand that exists in next door Trinidad & Tobago and further afield for qualified nursing personnel. This may be regarded as a brain drain route but, until there is a better alternative, it could be treated as a segment of our export strategy.
ii) A second area of training for export lies in maritime affairs. Government, especially over the past two decades, has encouraged and supported the development yachting and cruise tourism. However our efforts to find employment opportunities there have focused on the hospitality arts. We do not even seem to have considered the entertainment segment of the cruise industry. However many more opportunities abound in crewing. Both Barbados and Saint Vincent & the Grenadines have made inroads in supplying crews for oil tankers and other ocean-going cargo ships. Indeed Saint Vincent operates what is known as a flag of convenience, and, outside Panama, is probably the region’s largest register for ships carrying its flag.
It is proposed that a maritime training facility be established to train crews for ocean going ships but especially focusing on the super yachting sector. This will require agreements with companies that manage and operate luxury yachts on behalf of their owners. Such training will necessarily embrace seamanship (referred to as deck training), ship maintenance, embracing engine and ratings duties, and hospitality disciplines. The Philippines is probably the world’s largest supplier of maritime labour. Even our Osprey Lines plying our islands have used their services.
The two areas recommended for training above are expected to provide post-secondary training and certification for up to six hundred teenagers and produce graduates of two hundred youths (one hundred per graduating class) annually. Their services will be exported but the graduates themselves will not emigrate as they will become full time or seasonal workers in the identified health and maritime sectors. Their will earnings will be remitted to home, Grenada, and they will support families, improve and build homes and eventually return and be self-sufficient. These actions seem worthy of consideration.
Ambrose Phillip holds a B.Sc. in Management, a M.Sc. in Ports & Shipping Administration, and a Certificate in Law. He was the former General Manager of the Ports Authority and Grenada’s Director of Maritime Affairs. During the PRG he was Projects Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture and worked with the State Farms Corporation as the Regional Manager of the Fedon cluster of four farms. He is a registered farmer and has represented Saint Mark parish as a delegate to the GCNA in general meeting.