Forging Our Future: Skills Gaps in The Bahamas
As noted in The Inter-American Development Bank’s report: “Skills for Current and Future Jobs in The Bahamas”, a significant gap exists between the labour needs in The Bahamas and the skills of the local workforce. The report states that workforce productivity has continuously decreased since the turn of the millennium, and 1 in 4 employers cite a lack of appropriate skills in the labour force as the leading factor.
Despite efforts to address this need area, there persists a regular struggle by Bahamian employers to find sufficient local staff with the necessary specific, technical, and soft skills. In certain Industries, this creates an uneven dependence on foreign talent creating tension between labour and immigration policies and the functional practices necessary for local industries to thrive. Ultimately, the negative impact of this gap has contributed to limited private sector growth and subsequently minimal economic development.
Recognizing that addressing workforce productivity lies at the heart of economic development, The Ministry of Labour held the first-ever National Symposium on Skills Developments titled “Forging our Future: Assessing and Analyzing the Skills Gap in The Bahamas” on September 17th at The National Training Agency.
The concept of a National Symposium for Skills Development was proposed to the National Committee or Industry Education & Skills Training, which was assembled in April 2018 to address the skills gap, by The Organization for Responsible Government (ORG) as a potential endeavour to identify and remedy the training gaps contributing to skills gaps in The Bahamas. The concept was adopted by the National Committee, with funding and resources coming from The Ministry of Labour, ORG and The National Training Agency.
The Symposium brought over 150 leaders of industry, education, government, and labour together to craft a comprehensive multi-sector approach to address this critical need. Attendees were mandated with 5 main goals:
- To develop a consensus-based assessment of the current skill needs among the key sectors in Private Industry in The Bahamas
- To collect information on the skills challenges faced by the sectors and identify common themes and priorities
- To create an exhaustive list of the competencies, credentials, and certifications that are required to stimulate growth in the Bahamian economy.
- To identifying related challenges that affect skill development, such as education, immigration, and systemic issues.
- To build ongoing systems and forums for collaboration among industry leaders and associations to address the specific needs within their sector and subsectors.
The Diverse group of attendees, representing scores of governmental and non-governmental organizations, were welcomed by Senator Jennifer Issacs-Dotson and a performance by the Royal Defense Force Pop Band. Throughout the morning, guests attended an informational component featuring remarks by The Prime Minister of The Bahamas and Minister Foulkes on the scope and status of the skills gap and its implications on national and economic development. Prime Minister Minnis set an optimistic tone for the event stating “I put forth that today is a significant pivot point in this battle to improve the workforce and create greater opportunity for our industries. This can be a day that we unleash the incredible potential that lies within our nation.”
ORG Executive Director Matthew Aubry, outlined the Symposium stating “The key is for each of us, whether we be in government, private industry, organized labour, education or civil society, to commit to work together and play our part in this effort. I believe that if we do and we tackle this issue together, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.”
Permanent Secretary Celia Strachan introduced the soon to launch Skills for Current and Future Jobs Project, a joint venture between the Government of the Bahamas and the IDB, and, Michael Nelson, Acting Country representative of the IDB discussed Regional Trends of job skill development. Mr. Nelson shared the following six observations:
- Governments are moving toward evidence-based policy-making: better spending (not more spending) is key to producing a competitive workforce.
- Skills development is no longer limited to the formal educational system and involves marshaling the efforts of various actors: families, entrepreneurs, and firm managers etc.
- Employers are now driving the dialogue on skills development. They, like political and civil society leaders, as well as citizens at large, recognize the value of human capital to firm performance and acknowledge that people drive innovation and drive results.
- Governments and employer groups are collaborating through public-private partnerships to reimagine educational and training ecosystems as well as national skills development infrastructure to co-create standards, frameworks, and assessment measures, that will inspire generations to upskill and reskill.
- Cost-effective solutions to improve skills at all ages, from early childhood to adulthood, are key.
- Emerging technologies are poised to disrupt traditional approaches to skills development.
The second component of the day was dedicated to functional work among the Symposium participants. They were placed in groups by industry clusters: Hospitality; Financial Services; Manufacturing & Agriculture; Construction, Contracting & Landscape; Medical, Education & Allied Health; Information Technology & Communications; and Maritime & Transport.
The Industry workgroups were tasked with developing consensus on their needs, challenges, and opportunities and once established working with education representatives to compare the identified skill needs with locally available educational and training offerings to identify industry-specific next steps toward addressing need areas.
Through these workshops, a consensus was formed by the Symposium Participants on key technical and soft skills required by the industries in The Bahamas as well as some general trends toward meeting the current and future workforce needs:
- The Sectors must partner to construct job pathways that are real and accessible to all segments of the workforce. An example would be a secondary school apprenticeship project such as that proposed by ORG, which is supported by the Education System and Labour Organizations, coordinated by Private Industry and monitored by Government.
- Governmental and Non-Governmental systems must integrate so that workforce and training data is comprehensive.
- Soft skills and values must be prioritized and reinforced at all levels of job skill development and by all Sectors.
- The Government, Private Industry and Civil Society must ensure that laws and policies protect vocational training programmes from vulnerability in regime change.
Primary Education systems must better connect literacy & numeracy to vocational outcomes.
Students should be offered Social-Emotional Curriculum from the earliest age in the Educational Systems.
- Tertiary and Technical Educational Institutions should work more directly and closely with the Private sector to avoid repetition of effort and ensure that curricula offerings are relevant
- Educational systems and institutions must work to change the perception of vocational and technical education and remove the negative stigma surrounding technical careers.
- Industries can take more leadership in developing comprehensive and coordinated action plans for job skill development. The launch of the IDB Job Skills Development project creates a very positive opportunity to launch skills councils across all industries.
- Industries and Educational Institutions must adopt internationally recognized certification and licensing to achieve a standard that the consumer can depend upon. This can be supported and promoted by Government and Labour Organizations.
- Government and Industry must regulate unlicensed technical positions and work with BCCEC and Industry Associations to ensure compliance with standards.
The full report with industry-specific needs and analyses is currently being finalized and will be released by The National Committee early in 2019. Based on the results in this report, The National Committee, of which ORG is a member, will develop industry skills councils responsible for developing action plans for specific economic sectors. These Councils will receive Ministry of Labour support to craft appropriate apprenticeship programs, fill public curricular gaps and develop incentives for private sector participation.
Understanding and addressing the significant gap that exists between the current and future labour needs in The Bahamas and the skills of the local workforce is one a critical factor in ensuring the sustainable success of the nation, and prosperity for future generations. Reduction of the skills gap in The Bahamas is seen by all sectors as a necessary step toward reducing unemployment; increasing productivity; improving ease of doing business; expanding the private sector, and growing The Bahamian economy.
Though this is not a new phenomenon - The IDB report titled “The Pursuit of Employable Skills 2012” found that, “When asked about the main two difficulties in recruiting staff, 66% of employers cited the lack of specific skills, followed by lack of experience, lack of soft skills and lack of numeracy and literacy skills” - with the upcoming accession to the World Trade Organization looming, workforce productivity is more crucial than ever. The National Skills Symposium represents the first step, and as Prime Minister Minnis stated, a first hope in addressing this persistent issue and “unleashing” our nation’s potential.