GOVERNMENT minister Julian Robinson has challenged Jamaicans to take advantage of opportunities in the information and communication technology (ICT) industry to create their own online companies.
According to Robinson — the state minister in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining (STEM) — it is past time that Jamaicans move from being mere consumers of ICT, to producers of it.
"I don't want Jamaicans simply to be employees in these [ICT] centres; I want you to build your own company. I want you to aggregate local Jamaican talent," he said.
Robinson was speaking following presentations from players in the online business industry overseas on day one of the DigiJam 2.0 forum, held at the Jamaica Conference Centre last weekend.
At the same time, he reaffirmed the Government's commitment to providing opportunities for access to computers and the Internet for the nation's youth.
To that end, Robinson said e-Learning Jamaica — set up to create an islandwide broadband network allowing public access to the Internet through schools, public libraries, post offices and other agencies — has provided more than 160 high schools with computers and is moving to do the same for primary schools.
In addition, he said that the Universal Access Fund — set up to finance the e-Learning Jamaica project — can now collect its own revenue and is to be called the Universal Service Fund. Previously, funds would go to the General Consolidated Fund and the Universal Access Fund would have to apply for the money it needed to carry out projects.
"The reason this is important is that without the access, you simply can't participate. Without the access, you won't have an opportunity to develop the programmes that ultimately will provide the opportunities for you to earn the foreign exchange, which is where we want to move the industry," the state minister noted.
"So the first thing we are doing is to facilitate access and access is not an end in itself. It's a means to an end; it's a way of bridging the digital divide, allowing those persons who don't have access at home to be able to do it at their schools, in their community centres and post offices," he added.
Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna, in addressing the forum, said there is a disconnect between how policymakers create policies in response to the current generation of youth, whom she described as living in a virtual reality.
Nonetheless, she called on those present to take advantage of opportunities in the sector as what is considered 'soft' labour is what is making money nowadays.
"We would like to give you the opportunity [through DigiJam] to explore how best to do that, utilising the virtual economy," she said.
Hanna said the Government will, meanwhile, fast-track those policies that will be critical for e-commerce to accommodate whatever is needed to make the businesses work.