Today the Jamaica Observer publishes the third story on the nominees for this year's Business Leader Award. All nominees for the award are non-private sector entities that facilitate the growth and development of private companies in Jamaica.
THE Edward Seaga Administration faced a series of daunting roadblocks as it turned its attention toward jump-starting the ailing economy during the early 1980s.
Close to the top of the adverse list was the misalignment between the quality workforce that was required to achieve economic growth and the skills set that was being churned out by the island's educational institutions.
Rather than attempting the Herculean task of fixing the broken system, Seaga unveiled a new organisation in 1982 that he specifically charged with equipping the country's vast army of idle hands with the vocational and technical skills that could meet the needs of investors.
Conceptually and practically, the Human Employment and Resource Training (HEART) Trust represented an ambitious national endeavour.
If the agency could design the right skills training programmes and reach enough individuals, it could indeed remove a critical constraint to investments and allow the Government to move on to other fixes that were needed to make the country an attractive place to foreign capital.
To fund HEART's operation, the Administration levied a three per cent payroll tax on large corporations — many of which stood to benefit from its training programmes by having available to them a workforce that was already adept at the skills they needed to remain competitive.
The special tax codified the public/private partnership that the skills training agency represented and laid the groundwork for the transformative effect its programmes have had on Jamaica's workplaces.
Over the course of 31 years, the HEART Trust/NTA has faced major changes in global technology and has had to respond to the seismic shifts that have taken place in the geography of international labour markets.
But the institute has proven to be adaptive and anticipatory. It has kept the Jamaican workforce apace with the ever-changing trends in labour requirements, and has equipped its students with the skills and confidence that many have used to join the private sector as entrepreneurs.
When, for example, agriculture and garment production were moved up the priority ladder by the Government, HEART was there to ensure that the requisite skill sets were available to make the transformation to these industries possible. The same has been the case with information technology, tourism, construction and, especially within the last few years, the personal care sector.
The HEART Trust/NTA training programme is a massive undertaking; it involves a multi-layered, multiplicity of disciplines offered at numerous locations and training facilities across the island.
Each year nearly 90,000 Jamaicans can be found enrolled in one programme or the other and 60,000 of them will attain some level of certification.
The certification programmes not only equip participants with useful skills, they help establish industry standards that provide valuable guides to employers as they scout the market for the optimum expertise to fill vacancies at their companies.
The agency constantly reassesses its programmes and tweaks the way it delivers services to its client companies and students -- a policy which, it says, is driven by the desire to provide those stakeholders with the best value for money.
The announcement in 2011 of plans to regionalise its services and to replace the current delivery methodologies with a new structure is a good example of the rethinking that HEART says allows it to better meet market needs.
Under the old system this organisation operated nearly 30 technical vocational and training institutes through which students gained certification in their chosen field, in addition to some 120 special programmes on offer. Others benefited from workplace-based training, while community-based partnerships exposed many of the less privileged to another type of experience with the HEART programme.
What is important is that the new arrangement guarantees that none of the key sectors on which the country is depending to help drive economic growth and employment will be left out of the programme. From information technology and agriculture, to tourism, engineering and construction, HEART is making sure that there is always available a pool of skills into which entrepreneurs can tap as needed.
HEART's ability to expand its programmes in response to the country's evolving priorities is, in large part, a function of the financial resources that are at its disposal, and its success at attracting new corporate contributors each year can only help.
During the 2010/11 financial year 1,130 companies were added to the list. That year a total of 18,316 employers contributed just over $6 billion to its revenue by way of the payroll tax, 10 per cent above the previous year.
There is no doubt that this Government-operated organisation is a friend of Jamaica's private sector. Indeed, it would be difficult to identify a company of any meaningful size that is not staffed by HEART graduates, or which has not benefited one way or the other from its training programmes.
Yet, its success and reputation as the partner to which the private sector essentially outsources its staff training needs overshadow another important and even more direct way in which the State agency is helping to facilitate the development of the private sector.
In this regard, many of its training programmes -- whether craft or personal care industry -- are, by their very nature, geared towards empowering participants to venture directly into business on their own.
This institution is now taking even more affirmative steps towards encouraging the development of private businesses.
The plan is to establish scores of workforce colleges that will host incubator programmes which will each serve as a virtual husbandry of entrepreneurism.
Here, advanced students with ambition of launching on their own will have access to equipment and space at low rental rates even as they continue to benefit from technical advice from the HEART trainers. They also will be offered help in building their customer base.
The Business Leader Award will be held on Sunday, December 1 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston beginning at 4:30 pm. The programme this year is sponsored by:
The HEART Trust/NTA headquarters on Oxford Road in Kingston.