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Time to start viewing human capital as an asset, urges former PM

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT Observer writer hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, May 15, 2014    

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FORMER Prime Minister of Jamaica Bruce Golding has called on the country's leaders to cease treating the nation's most valuable assets, its people, as liabilities.

"You have heard the cliché, the slogan of the Ministry of Education, it's the slogan of so many people, that our people are our most valuable assets and yet we as a nation tend to treat people more as a liability. And, therefore, in the political discourse we talk so much about doing more for the poor, we put so much emphasis on building a safety net to protect the most vulnerable, and it seems to me that in all of this effort — which is well needed — we are showing more concerns about alleviating rather than transforming that vulnerability," Golding said.

Golding, who was speaking at the Second Annual Leadership Forum of Generation 2000 (G2K) Mona Campus Youth League — themed 'Sustainable Human Development' — said the current focus placed on the issue of human development was inadequate.

"When we think about human development we very often take as our frame of reference the Human Development Report, which is published each year by the United Nations. And that represents a series of indices that try to measure [the] status and the progress which a country is making or lack of progress, based on specific statistical criteria such as longevity, life expectancy, school enrolment, income levels and equality among social groups," he explained.

"As useful as this is, as a broad proxy for evaluating and comparing countries, it is limited as a policy tool. The UN report treats human development as an outcome without providing any meaningful insight as to how that outcome came about," he said.

Instead, he said the focus should be on human development in terms of how to convert human potential into human capacity.

He further added that apart from people born with physical and mental disabilities, who are estimated to make up about two per cent of Jamaica's population, every child is born with a brain that has unlimited potential for development.

"Whether a child is born at Victoria Jubilee or born at Nuttall Hospital, he can become a world-class scientist, a highly competent engineer, a technician, an agronomist, a plumber, a geneticist, a fashion designer. That baby is like a seedling that can grow and become a fruitful tree or it can be stunted, consuming nutrients from the soil but never being able to bear any fruit.

"That baby is an asset that can be either invested to grow the business and earn rich dividend or if neglected is left undeveloped, it becomes a costly burden, it becomes a liability instead of being an asset," Golding said.

Meanwhile, addressing the deficit of human capital, the former prime minister said the disconnect between curriculum and labour market has to be addressed.

"The marketplace is demanding higher and higher levels of skilled competency. When I graduated from the university here in 1969, before you got your results, all the major companies would assemble in the Assembly Hall and as graduates we would go from booth to booth to interview them to find out what they were prepared to offer us, then gather at the soda fountain and exchange notes and see which offer was best. ...The thought of a university graduate with a degree not being able to find a job did not exist but it is a major problem for graduates today and even graduates with a master's degree," he said.

As such, Golding urged graduates to pursue studies in areas where there is demand, arguing that the economy cannot adapt itself to student matriculation, but that institutions can train students to meet the demands of the market.

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