Digital and technology — Caribbean potential

HANNIFFA PATTERSON

Sunday, August 11, 2019

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With the new digital wave comes myriad opportunities for the Caribbean, and in particular Jamaica, to step up and make her mark on this bold (new) world. Gone are the days when social media was seen as just a game. People are now realising that we are on the tail of a digital revolution and that now is the time to jump in and make some moves, before we are left behind.

In this article I'll unveil a few things that as Caribbean citizens, and Jamaicans in particular, the digital wave has brought to us.

OPPORTUNITY for ONLINE LEARNING

Though unemployment has reportedly decreased, it is no secret that Jamaica still has a large unemployed population.

In addition, there are many people who are not interested in the traditional lengthy and expensive three- and four-year college options. The digital world is an outstanding alternative to present to them. Currently, we can learn so much through the Internet — whether through the school of YouTube or other online educational platforms.

People are now able to attend courses from the comfort and privacy of their homes, in various subjects, and for much shorter durations.

A three-month online course could equip an individual with real, valuable skills. This is both an opportunity for students to learn on their own, but also for potential teachers to come to the fore and make money teaching their skills online — not just to Jamaicans, but to the world. And this brings us to my second point.

INCREASED JOB OPPORTUNITIES

One compliment Jamaicans often get when they travel is how well they speak English. There is definitely a market for fluent English speakers in numerous areas, be it in customer service, as virtual assistants, in online teaching, writing, or as voice over talent.

This is facilitated by the many VoIp services such as WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom and the advanced recording applications on our smart phones.

Thanks to these applications our citizens are more able to acquire new skills, upgrade themselves, and be able to then deliver these services to an international market, not just locally.

CONTENT CREATION AND ENTERTAINMENT EXPORT

Jamaicans are natural entertainers and creatives. In all my travels, and after all these years living abroad, I must admit that there is just no country like Jamaica. The ratio of creativity to the size of the nation is truly immense. There is really something in the water — or maybe it's the yams. (There was actually a French documentary alluding to yams as the reason behind Usain's great speed, but that's for another article.)

But are we truly capitalising on this potential? The digital age is driven by content.

Today the barriers to entry have been reduced significantly. Almost everyone has a smartphone capable of filming or photography, and there are numerous free and paid apps which can do high-level post production.

I rarely now head to Photoshop or my computer to edit photos as I did in days of old. I have several free or cheap apps for that which, honestly give comparable photo editing for the time and effort required. Traditional professional tools such as a DSLR camera or Photoshop tools are simply not necessary.

So why aren't we as Jamaicans doing more, why aren't we creating more? Why aren't we putting more content online?

This is probably one of our greatest areas of untapped potential in this digital age.

FUTURE ROLE FOR THE GOVERNMENT

As we do step up to meet the need, the Government may need to create strategies to monitor and manage the product leaving the island, to ensure that people are trained well and that brand Jamaica is being preserved.

With the potential of exporting Brand Jamaica, there is also the risk of exporting low-quality content and fuelling a stereotype of what Jamaica can be, such as “daggering” videos, fight videos etc. But this is not Jamaica.

The citizens will also have to get on board and realise that the Jamaican brand is not just something the Government is trying to push, but that brand Jamaica is everyone's Brand, and so should be preserved and cared for. This meaning even in how and what we share about our beautiful island online.

We'll have to learn to use social media responsibly.

DEVELOPMENT OF TECHNICAL SKILLS

How are we capitalising on the opportunity to create highly skilled persons in tech? People who will have the technical skills to create the machines and software of the future?

Companies in Jamaica could partner with some of these technical schools so that students could be trained and streamlined for certain skill sets from early on.

In France, by the time they get to high school, students choose schools that are focused on their area of interest. So a teenager who hopes to become a baker, or work in media, or even become an engineer, attends a high school that offers courses geared toward this particular subject or skill. These schools then produce highly skilled, laser-focused professionals.

So “technical high”, should no longer be perceived as something to be looked down. We are in a technical age. Such schools should be teaching courses on machine learning, coding etc. The time is still early, we can still jump in and learn and evolve with these new industries.

I still remember how ridiculous it looked when I said I was studying social media marketing. I've since had a few friends confess and apologise for their disbelief in the leviathan that social media has turned out to be.

One 2015 CNN article suggests it has created over “455 million jobs around the world and added 227 billion, to the world economy” — and that was 2015. Facebook and social media did not exist 20 years ago. This is mind-blowing. Let us jump in now, and ensure we equip our youth and people in the Caribbean to ride the wave.

Such areas could prove to be areas of equalisation for the region, as a great digital marketer in the Caribbean is just as good as one located in Europe or the US. Let's just get our people competent and confident.

DEVELOPMENT OF ESSENTIAL SOFT SKILLS

Finally, with the new global digital and tech opportunities we will also have to shore up on our soft skills — things such as manners, discipline and integrity.When dealing with clients and colleagues around the world, certain cultural excuses, will not be tolerated.

When part of a remote global team, one can't log in at 8:50 for an 8:00 meeting and explain it with “Jamaican time”.

Nor will the fact that you are working from home be an excuse for lying about how many hours one worked for the day. Jamaicans will have to learn to work in a new paradigm, while maintaining old, universal values.

Every country will be called to do the same, but as a nation we will have to focus on those areas we traditionally struggle in so as to stand out and compete in the global market.

Jamaica is ideally placed geo-politically and culturally. We also have a distinct advantage of being the largest English-speaking island in the region. This presents an opportunity for us on so many levels. We are close enough to the major political players and are geopolitically aware enough to play, or be seen as a relevant player.

Let us position ourselves as a source for a highly skilled workforce, as the Caribbean's creative hub, and as the source for the most talented entrepreneurs. All within our reach, thanks to this digital revolution.

Let us act now…


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