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VIDEO: 'It's about skill'

Jamaica must redesign education system to take advantage of hub opportunities, says Pinnock

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor -- Features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 15, 2014    

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UNLESS the country's education system is redesigned to focus more on skill acquisition rather than on academics, Jamaica will not be able to take advantage of the wide categories of jobs expected to come about with the opening of the planned logistics hub.

At the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange yesterday, the Logistics Hub Task Force, set up by the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce to lead the establishment of the hub, said it could not put a figure on the number of jobs that will be created, but explained that the opportunities would be almost endless since in addition to direct employment in the hub there will be support industries featuring entrepreneurs, as well as the possibility for exporting labour.

But to benefit, people will need skills training and certification in fields determined by the marketplace.

"Currently, where the jobs are in logistics worldwide, it's about skill, it's about certification; while our education system is pushing degrees... Nobody wants to employ your degree; they want to employ your competence or your skill," chairman of the sub-committee on education and training, Dr Fritz Pinnock, told the Monday Exchange.

"In the logistics hub, the maintenance area is where I see most of the people being employed and people need people who are multi-skilled so you have to have that shift in focus of our education system," he added.

To that end, he said one of the initiatives the task force will be hosting is a discussion later this month on integrating TVET, or skills, into academia.

Dr Pinnock is also executive director of Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI) and a director on the HEART Trust/NTA board. He was accompanied at yesterday's session by chairman of the task force Dr Eric Deans, President of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) Francis Kennedy, and CEO of the JCC Trevor Fearon.

To further illustrate his point, Pinnock said 70 per cent of the degree programmes offered in Jamaica are liberal arts-based, while the rest of the world is into science and technology.

"Last year China graduated 800,000 engineers, all of Europe [graduated] 100,000, the US [graduated] 70,000 and Jamaica was struggling to put out 350."

But even so, the 350 "were in the wrong areas", he said, suggesting that the graduates were only skilled in single areas rather than multiple engineering disciplines. In an attempt to solve that, Pinnock said the task force is currently exploring a new area called mechatronics, which rejects splitting engineering into different fields.

Explaining the rationale, Pinnock referenced the CMI saying that when marine engineers came back from sea, they were gobbled up by power and telecoms firms.

"The market was saying, 'when you come back from sea you come with a higher level of discipline, which is what we want. We want the attitudes that feature nowhere [else] in our education system'," he said.

That, plus the fact that the marine engineers learn how to improvise and think across systems, made them attractive to employers.

"We created a land-based version and we have found that since the global recession in 2008 we don't have hands enough to produce these people because Airports Authority, for example, employed a few of them and realised that this same man can fix the elevator, can service the generator, can fix the air conditioner and I can use him to replace five people," Pinnock said.

Citing an example of how that works, Pinnock said four Jamaicans are now working on ships as electromechanical technicians/engineers — the upgrade from marine engineers as stipulated by the International Maritime Organisation — with the average salary for each being euro $7,000 per month. It's a test run expected to take advantage of what he said was a demand in the area for between 3,000 and 4,000 people worldwide.

"The next thing the world is asking for is standards and certification. This is why we are encouraging the tertiary education institutions to reach out and go and seek ISO certification. ISO gives that global stamp that can take you anywhere. It makes no sense we produce a product in Jamaica and it tastes good and it looks good and we can't sell it abroad... The future is about standards."

Another plan which the task force has in terms of equipping the Jamaican workforce with requisite skills is to purchase a Festo Didactic lab from international supplier of automation technology including Audi engines, Festo.

"What we're looking at for Jamaica is getting a turnkey package from Festo that comes with Festo logo and certificate so that ...Audi no longer has to send to the US or Germany to import somebody to do certain jobs; it can be done here, and we can now export our people.

"I did a little audit three weeks ago between Dubai, Singapore and Rotterdam and there's a shortage in that area. Over 3,000 jobs were being advertised and I didn't touch Panama yet, or even Canada," Pinnock stressed.

Dr Deans, the task force chair, was keen to point out that entrepreneurship was also a key part of the plans.

"We're not just preparing people to get jobs, but will be rolling out through HEART, through CMI, etc, entrepreneurship programmes because we also want people to set up their own business and employ additional people," adding that HEART is shortly to introduce these courses at all levels.

The importance of training notwithstanding, the education and training chairman cautioned against the proliferation of institutions offering various types of training by questioning what the training will lead to and its relevance to the outside world.

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