Preparing the workforce to help face tomorrow

Employers are constantly complaining that they are not able to find employees on island that have the right qualifications, training, hands on experience and sometimes more importantly work ethic, writes Milly Serpell, managing director of SteppingStones.

When recruiting for a vacancy in any jurisdiction, we would not expect candidates to have perfect knowledge, skills and attitude for the job but we would hope they tick the majority of boxes.

Regrettably, at this time in Cayman, this does not seem to be commonplace. Even though global unemployment figures are high, according to a recent article in 2010 by Jayne Carrington, a talent and career management expert within Manpower in the UK, 31 per cent of employers worldwide are reporting difficulty filling key positions.

This situation is polarised in the Cayman Islands due to the circumstances within which we operate, such as a relatively small local work force, a fairly juvenile education system, employment sectors that have rapidly evolved over a very short period of time.

Unfortunately, this frequently leads us to the importation of foreign talent and the processing of work permits. While this has been a necessity, there are identifiable roles such as hairdressers, welders, chefs, mechanics, plumbers, etc. that could provide for stable career paths and employment opportunities for our native young people. Many companies in Cayman go to great lengths to be good corporate citizens by supporting education, training, scholarships and providing other assistance for individuals to achieve professional designations via either financial support or by donation of time or work placements.

These opportunities are mostly, but not exclusively, available in professions such as law, accountancy and other areas of the financial services. But what if you don’t want to have a career in finance or law? At the recent Chamber of Commerce Careers and Training Expo held at the Family Life Centre, the vast majority of school children who visited our stand advised that they wanted to become a lawyer or an accountant but seemingly did not know why wanted to pursue this career path. Many of the students we met confirmed that they liked to work with their hands or did not like to be sitting down all day so why would they tell us that they wanted to be accountants and lawyers? This is a danger sign that we need to listen to and take heed. It is apparent that the government of the day has acknowledged that there are industries and job opportunities available for which we are not preparing our children. We applaud the introduction of several new government initiatives such as the Passport to Success and more recently the launch of a variety BTEC courses. BTEC studies provide excellent introductions into vocational careers and workplace skills respectively. Cayman needs to build on the range of vocational training options together with development of individuals to make them successful across a wide range of careers. To reap the full benefit we need to see more vocational on the job training schemes and apprenticeships to allow for the reinforcement of what is learnt in the classroom.

Information about options and opportunities is essential and by encouraging young people to choose a career they will enjoy, they will be happier to commit the time to learning. Another method of addressing the issue of the skills gap is to change recruitment practice. Rather than just searching for and taking on a finished article, give a chance to one who is well positioned as a result of their existing skills and, more importantly, their attitude to benefit from training and development input.

The vital elements for this proposal to be effective are the attitude of the person employed and having the necessary training planned and resources allocated as part of the business plan.

One way of advancing the attitude element of the equation is to ensure that when graduating from school or tertiary education, the new employee, regardless of their chosen path, understands that now is the time to really start to learn, and not that that part of their lives is finished with. Anything that can be done to assist in the transition by exploring workplace skills and instilling a great work attitude from day one can only benefit all types of organisations. There is no one easy solution, but the way forward must surely be flexibility in attitude, investment in a wide range of employment development opportunities, recognition of transferable skills across industries and a concerted, co-joined approach to educating the workforce to meet the challenges of the job market of 2011 onwards.

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Milly Serpell

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