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Build a safe future by expanding your network

Francis Wade

Regional professionals still have a tendency to build professional networks, which stop where the water starts. In other words, most of us have few, if any, trusted colleagues living in other countries in the region.

In Jamaica, we often know more about business people in Pembroke Pines and Scarborough than we do about those in Port-of-Spain and Bridgetown. As a result, our networks are local, small and, therefore, limited.

Is there a reason not to try and expand your contacts beyond the shores - double, or triple them?

Fastest growing economy
At this very moment, one of the fastest growing economy in the region is Trinidad and Tobago, which has one of the highest growth rates and per capita incomes in Latin America. Whereas the United States has rising unemployment, Trinidad has full employment and entry-level workers are impossible to keep.

A few weeks ago, I tried to buy lunch on a Sunday at two KFC restaurants in Port-of-Spain at noon, only to find them closed. The reason I was given was that there was not enough staff to open for lunch at both outlets! It was then I realised that there were 'help wanted' signs everywhere.

At the same time, majority of Jamaican business-people would not even think about travelling to Trinidad for a vacation, let alone for work. In the process, they are missing out on the boom that is happening in our very own backyard. Oil and natural gas industries have taken their economy, with only 1.6 million people, to a GDP that far exceeds ours.

Professionals of all ages would do well to change their thinking and also look to double and triple their network, by extending it outside Jamaica's shores. What are the benefits of taking this course of action?

Job security
The first benefit is that it provides job security. The current challenge that many civil engineering firms in Jamaica is facing is driven by Trinidadian demand. Civil engineers, who graduated from the University of the West Indies in St Augustine, are being lured back to the country they were trained in. They are helping to fill the growing shortage of talent in Trinidad, leaving us with fewer than we need here in Jamaica to meet the upcoming demand for new hotels.

Having connections in a network that extends itself past our national boundaries is just a smart career strategy that can provide some level of employment safety.

Secondly, having a network that is large, and diverse, allows us to grow professionally. The Jamaican civil engineers who are working in Trinidad are probably being employed in the oil and natural gas companies, affording them an opportunity to work in industries that are not indigenous to our island. They gain more skills and experience, as a result, and when they return, we benefit.

In my own field of management consulting, a knowledge of different regional cultures has helped me to engage in cross-country projects and to consult with firms that have multiple offices.

The same applies to every profession. There is a great deal for us to learn from our regional colleagues and a lot for us to contribute. There are knowledge and skills to be learned from simply having a network that is big and diverse enough to challenge us to grow.

Maintaining contact
Thirdly, committing to developing a network beyond Jamaica's boundaries requires us to develop Internet skills, in order to save thousands of dollars, and to learn how to maintain contact with those we may never meet, but must somehow come to trust.

We, in Jamaica, still conduct business with those which we believe we must be able to see. Those professionals, who know how to create and maintain remote, Internet-based relationships, have a powerful advantage, and have a basis for growing their network rapidly. The more Internet technology is used, the more quality networking can be done - the equation is that simple.

Those who are still delegating their e-mail to a secretary are only missing out on learning the new tools that are coming out daily.

The power of social networking
When I gave a speech at the JEF conference a year ago, I had not discovered the power of social networking as an absolutely essential tool for regional networking. Now, I look back and laugh, because in a matter of months Facebook has enabled me to deepen and expand my network in a way that I did not know was possible.

This should be a message to all Jamaican professionals to keep an eye open for the next tool, which will change everything about how Caribbean professionals reach and relate to each other.

Francis Wade is a management consultant and owner of Framework Consulting. He is releasing an e-book on Caribbean networking in June 2008 that will be free to the public for a limited time. See for details.
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