BPO shows up lack of skills, especially in young girls

Sunday, November 18, 2018

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My attention was drawn to a photo in The Gleaner on Thursday, November 15 of Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaking with the accounting firm, KPMG, on future prospects of the BPO industry in which KPMG is now interested.

The BPO is the same project that I founded in Montego Bay in 1988 and called it the Digiport. It was a three-part high status joint venture between Cable and Wireless, American Telephone and Telegraph, and the Government of Jamaica.

The programme was enthusiastically received by young people in the Montego Bay area, Lucea, and Falmouth, as they responded in substantial numbers to the Montego Bay office of Digiport seeking jobs. From these applicants, enough were successful to provide the first tranche of workers and the prospect at that time was for some 5,000 workers from the area who could be recruited quickly. This would take care of Montego Bay, Trelawny, and Hanover without a hitch.

From the information in the discussion between the prime minister and KPMG it was revealed that there is a looming shortfall in the recruitment of girls because many applicants lack proper English and grammar. This would create a serious shortage for future prospects of a programme which has been doing well, so far, in putting thousands of young people to work.

The threatening shortfall is not news to me because from March last year when the BPO recognised that the project was founded by me they invited me to their conference in Montego Bay to be acknowledged as the founder and given an award. From that point in time I was able to tour one of the large facilities in Kingston to see for myself how many persons were employed in one location. I was told that future employment is going to be less because of the problem which I cited above — poor English and grammar.

Having that information, I set out with the chief recruiter to find other areas where new recruitment could be obtained but it appears that most of these possibilities have already been filled. The target for the BPO programme is 30,000 workers who would play a major role in the employment picture of a large number of young people. But now it seems as if there will be problems in reaching that target and in fulfilling the needs of young girls who wish to participate, but can't.

However, the thought came to me that students at university level, which is one of the most active areas in the programme where students obtain jobs, could be further explored at this point by checking on those students whose fees have not been fully paid and the continuation of their studies cut-off for the future until the fees are provided. This could be a few hundred which, while not providing a full answer to the problem, could help. That would be a great pity

What this points out is the lack of direction in their training at the secondary level to properly function with the required ability in English and grammar. Seventy per cent of those who are available to take the CXC exam fail, leaving them without any certificate of graduation or approval from any institution. They are the ones who now are unable to get work in this project.

This shortfall means more than an addition to the unemployment of young people. It is a pointer to the inability to obtain work anywhere and the frustration of facing further problems in their life, a critical social situation which could have ramifications in the number of young girls especially who have nowhere to turn.

However, some of these have turned to HEART to benefit from opportunities to have further study in order to be successful in the CXC exam. Many succeed in this area but are still not sufficient.

So here we are at this point in time, unable to find personnel to work in the BPO projects which would be most helpful to the future of these young people. But we should not be surprised about this shortfall, which is a reflection of the weakness of the education system in producing young people with the standard needed for employment. It is a bitter disappointment to the authorities and the young people, who both counted on the creation of a satisfactory programme aimed at advancing the future of young Jamaicans.

The problem does not originate from the secondary schools but from the primary school level and ultimately the first level of education, the basic and infant schools. It may seem to be an overwhelming problem to convert thousands who are not equipped in order to be employable. This observation is largely true, but in recognition of the failure it is time to start again in order to give young people in general a chance of job creation for the future.

HEART, of course, is one institution that can help. I was in an uptown restaurant a few days ago making a purchase when I was approached by a young man who tapped me on my shoulder and said “I want to thank you for this opportunity in my life”. I said “Who are you and what work do you do?” He gave me his name and told me with a look of pride that he was the restaurant's sous-chef, which is the second highest position in any organised restaurant. I was both shocked and pleased to see that a HEART student had advanced to such a level and it reminds me that there is still further hope for new prospects through HEART.

Bearing in mind that the future of young people is a critical part of the future of Jamaica, and in particular, the success of the political movements for advancement, I am repeating the advice that I have given so frequently: create an overall programme of an educational system which is directed to the problem areas. This will bear future success.

The current transformation programme introduced by the previous Government as a result of shortcomings which I pointed out in a debate in Parliament, has not given much attention to this aspect of the life of young people. If this Government also fails to do so, there will be, without a doubt, further social dysfunction and weaker educational prospects for their life, which can be a major problem for society.

The future of Jamaica is bound up with the future of young people and it is heart-breaking that the present unemployment data show the lowest figure ever achieved in our recent history. From this, it would be expected that the BPO sector would be a necessity because it touches a stratum of youth that is not fulfilled. For a good many people, the programme nationally for young people has improved their standing and expectations.

Hopefully, the day is not far off when the education system will not only be geared for learning, but for earning.

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