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Bridging the skills gap

According to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, as of October 2006, the unemployment rate in Jamaica was 9.6%. While this represents an overall decline compared to say, 2004, unemployment in Jamaica is still high and that fact has become even more evident as new graduates hit the streets this year in search of jobs.

Many are finding that to be employable, it is not enough to be a graduate. In the modern work environment one has to be skilled. The lack of skills robs job seekers of opportunity and costs Jamaica millions of dollars in lost revenue annually.

From basic literacy and numeracy to computer competence, every worker must now be armed with a range of skills to perform effectively in the workplace. Every employee must be equipped to function in a highly competitive, global environment.

These increasing demands, according to Manpower and Maintenance Services Limited (MMS) CEO Audrey Hinchcliffe, are proving to be even more challenging for developing countries like Jamaica. “While many of our unemployed would wish to change their status, they simply do not have the skills to find jobs,” Mrs. Hinchcliffe said. “In many cases even the employed are not able to perform efficiently and effectively because of low skill levels. If we are to achieve the levels of productivity to see real growth in Jamaica’s economy, this is an area that must be addressed urgently,” she added.

Enter the Institute for Workforce Education and Development (IWED). The training arm of MMS, IWED was opened in 2005 to provide “work-relevant training” that caters to the specific needs of the trainees and client companies that it serves. “Through IWED we focus not only on skills training, but on customizing that training so that those who complete the courses also leave with a greater understanding of organizational culture and their role in improving productivity at the workplace,” Mrs. Hinchcliffe said.


Selected training programmes at the Institute are certifiable by the National Council on Technical Vocational Education and Training (NCTVET) and National Vocational Qualification of Jamaica (NVQ-J), Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL) and the Jamaican Institute of Management. Attempts are being made by Training Director Audrey Leahong to forge alliances with other organizations in an effort to broaden the range of certified courses that IWED offers.

Ms Leahong said most curriculum outlines “include a list of core topics, but are also tailored to match the client’s needs. Participants undergo an intensive period of training in theory and practice as well as follow-up on the job assessments.” Courses include: Cleaning Techniques for Janitorial Services, Customer Service - Level 1, Food Handling Practices and Procedures, Home Management, Introduction to Housekeeping/Hospitality, Ornamental Horticulture and Grounds Maintenance, Occupational Health and Safety for Industry, Pest Control Management, Time Management, Workplace Education and Workplace Professionalism, among others.

IWED is already making its mark. According to Audrey Leahong, “We have trained over 70 participants with the assistance of the National Housing Trust Inner City Housing Project (NHT/ICHP) through its Job Fair in October 2006, World Cup Cricket in 2007, and the Manpower and Maintenance Placement Agency. Over 65 participants were placed and are still employed either part-time, full-time, or have started their own businesses.” The participants work in a wide range of areas from household helpers, gardeners and janitors to administrative and clerical officers.

“We recognize that the workplace is changing rapidly and that the training offered must be tailored to address those changes. We are determined to bridge the skills gap. At IWED, our objective is not only to train workers but to develop a new work culture where all trainees are equipped with the required skills to be competent; are committed to improving their performance on the job, and understand what it means to provide a high standard of service, Mrs. Leahong said. One of IWED’s objectives, she added, is also to encourage participants to leave “possessing the will to overcome limitations” in keeping with the organisation’s motto.

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