Jamaica's emerging crisis

Jamaica's emerging crisis

By Dennis Chung

Friday, March 07, 2014

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IN examining whether an organisation can turn around or is a good investment, one would first have to look at its business model to see if it makes sense or not. Secondly, one would have to consider the people managing or working there and what inherent risks exists. This approach will tell you whether to shut down the organisation or attempt to revive it.

So too, with a country, we need to examine its economic model and determine the human resource input, and the risks associated with its development. This approach will tell you of the structural risks that could make or break the country's progress.

On Ash Wednesday, I went out to Hellshire to get some fish and festival, which I do sometimes, but usually go early to avoid the crowd. Because I did a five hour ride that morning, I was unable to get there until the crowd had already descended and what I saw was quite revealing as it unearthed certain inherent challenges the country has.

Firstly, I should say that my view is that under the current programme, our economic model is moving in the right direction, and Jamaica does have many comparative advantages it can easily exploit for international competitiveness.

There are, however, certain inherent challenges that could lead to an economic and social crisis, which is not unrelated to the crime issues we are seeing.

My first observation is that I believe Jamaica will face a significant health problem and poor nutritional choices evident amongst the young and older people which will definitely lead to a crisis. This is coupled with the fact that many of the persons observed can easily become unemployable, based on the number of young men content with just sitting down to pull on a "spliff" continually or their attitude and dress sense.

Secondly, and most important though, is the apparent absence of values and social skills required for a productive work force.

It is obvious that many of the required values for social interaction are missing, and I saw situations where young children were being exposed to foul language and behaviour, by their parents and older persons, which will negatively impact their values.

In one situation a man was driving with loud music blaring, with the DJ saying how one should treat a woman, in a very degrading manner, with two young boys no older than eight sitting in the back. In another situation a man, dressed with his shorts half-way at his underwear, and a big "spliff" in his mouth was there with a little girl around 11.

The many young children there also lacked the social skills for acceptable values and attitudes required for productive interaction, as they gyrated to the sometimes offensive music, spurred on by the similar actions from the adults.

It occurred to me that the people there represented the masses in Jamaica, and the future of the country. At that moment it was evident why there was so much violence, not only generally, but in schools, and why there were so many instances of child and female abuse. The fact is that this type of aggressive, carefree, and undisciplined behaviour was totally acceptable as the norm.

I also thought that I wouldn't want my family associating with these people, and learning that sort of behaviour and why there is a class division in the country. I cannot imagine wanting to expose any child to that sort of accepted behaviour. Not to mention also the utter chaos, as there was no organisation around the traffic.

It occurred to me that if we do not do something to address this behaviour then we will not only face a social crisis, but that we will have a workforce that is unable to compete for jobs in a more competitive world. In other words, as was said on radio a few years ago, "one chiney can do five somebody work".

What this simply means is that even though we are excited about major projects such as the logistics hub and the road improvement, the truth is that if we do not do something about improving the attitude and productivity of our labour force, many of these jobs could be farmed out to foreigners. This is not because of any sinister plot by the government, but because our work force will not have the requisite skills to compete effectively for those jobs.

What we must understand is that as we shift the economy to a more productive one, where government no longer determines who gets what jobs or if one company has an advantage over another, because of political leanings, then it also means that workers need to become more productive.

It is only through productivity and innovation that companies will survive. As a result of this need by companies to survive in a more competitive environment, they will also demand workers that can operate at the highest levels of productivity. Anyone who chooses to hire someone merely because they are a friend, or family, even though they are clearly unproductive is eventually going to have to shut down their business where they are faced with more efficient competition.

A very big part of productivity is attitude, and not just academic qualifications. I have seen many people with academic qualifications whom I would not even consider to feed my dogs, because their attitude is wrong and also they lack the ability to reason or solve problems. They may end up either kicking my dog or over feeding them.

This problem of attitude also crosses over to social media sites where I see many young adults destroying themselves before they even start working by their posts, not realising that any serious human resources department will always check social media sites before they hire someone, as an employee's social media ranting can affect the company's image.

So, when we see this type of behaviour emerging among the masses, coupled with the lack of discipline we see generally (partially driven by the inability of the police to control things like road indiscipline and night noise for various reasons), you can see a crisis of human resources emerging in Jamaica.

Dennis Chung is a chartered accountant and the author of the books Charting Jamaica's Economic and Social Development AND Achieving Life's Equilibrium. His blog is dcjottings.blogspot.com; e-mail: drachung@gmail.com

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