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Setting the table for culture

...All the talk will come to nought

Al Miller

Sunday, May 13, 2018

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The Creator in nature teaches fundamental lessons that, when observed and applied, produce amazing results and pay great dividends. One such lesson is that everything that grows has a culture and an environment in which it flourishes best. Some plants grow in cold climates, some in warm, some in dry areas, and others in damp.

This growth principle also applies to animals. They each have a native habitat — a place where they thrive; where everything they need is naturally available. Depending on what you want to grow, you should first know the best environment and culture in which to grow it, and then create them. Many fine plants and crops (seedlings) die because of poor culture and environment. The problem was not in the quality of the seedling or animal, but in the fact that it was placed in a cultural environment in which it could not survive.

Therefore an important element that must not be overlooked in our excellent quest and push for economic growth and prosperity is developing the necessary culture and environment. Here are three aspects necessary for this culture and environment of which I speak:

• A receptive and motivated citizenry committed to the vision of a new and prosperous Jamaica; with faith in their God and their leaders.

• A ready, trained workforce; highly skilled and with the right attitude.

• A responsive and customer-centred civil service.

I take it as a given that the present Administration and the business sector are ready, able and willing to act, since they should have the burning desire to see growth happen. In the zeal for growth we cannot afford to put the cart before the horse. This makes investing in the culture and environment in which economic growth flourishes a matter of first and paramount importance.

Everybody's business, everybody's success!

Real economic growth in a nation is not the prerogative of a few. For best results, it requires the mobilisation of the entire nation. We need people who are able to mobilise the masses and unite our people in pursuit of the shared goals of progress and prosperity. This is vital to the process.

Yet, in the past, governments and planners often overlook, undervalue or ignore this side. Not to employ this strategy as a significant part of the growth process could be catastrophic. The mindset of the society and workforce is crucial. The mindset of the public service is vital. At every level we must now be as inclusive as possible in nation-building.

Crucial questions to wrestle with are:

• Are we giving the requisite attention to the mindset of these categories of people?

• Do we accept and believe that mindset change in these areas is a necessary part of creating the culture and environment for economic growth?

If we accept that, and now that we are pushing ahead with what seems to be sound plans and approaches by the Economic Growth Council and the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, then keen attention must also be paid to creating the right environment, and now is the time to do so. The Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, led by the prime minister and ably assisted by Minister Daryl Vaz, is the place to take leadership of creating the right environment.

By the way, Minister Vaz has for a long time been known as a hard worker, producer and an action man. However, in recent times I see he's vying for the boxing title in the Gordon House gym.

“Mi a back him fi win, 'cause dem man deh cyaan test him! His first opponent, di Doctor one, if him get one lick from Action Man him haffi go ah doctor same time. Arite, arite a little joke me a mek, nuh lick him, Vazzy. But, seriously, a word to the wise for the politicians, please be mindful of what we project in those halls of government — even if it's play acting. Disrespect and indiscipline cannot be part and parcel of a culture or environment for growth and prosperity. I am thankful that they apologised to each other; however, we must not allow our emotions to get the better of us in that setting or any at all.

Now, back to business. The Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries announced recently that he would be working closely with Minister Vaz and the Economic Growth Council to crank up the economic growth machine by putting idle lands into serious hands. Remember, Ministers, don't let this just be serious hands of 'the big man' type. Be as inclusive as possible, even though that may mean helping the little man with financing and training to ensure he stays the course to prosperity. It has to be prosperity for all. This further underscores why creating a conducive atmosphere is both necessary and a priority.

Receptive and motivated citizenry

No country will be able to prosper if its citizens are not motivated to produce something of value — whether goods or services. It is a matter of concern to me, and maybe to you, that we have developed a culture of mendicancy or, as we say, a 'let off something' culture. We have moved away from a mindset of work and service, and we must recreate it in our citizenry.

It used to be that, even at school, if you wanted to raise funds, you had to do something — put on a concert, have a cake sale or a bar-b-que. Now it seems that the preferred mode is to print a sheet of paper and simply beg the money. This is teaching a wrong principle; that you can get something for nothing. Our young people then take this attitude into life and we lose the opportunity to train them to think like entrepreneurs. We need to train our people to understand that wealth is earned through creating value.

A vital part of the culture that we must have is the willingness to participate in the national endeavour of building the prosperous new Jamaica. Each of us must recognise that we have a critical role to play and be willing to work to fulfil that purpose. Are we receptive to the idea of meaningful work? Work that is aligned to a national vision, work that contributes to the overall good of the community.

How will this happen? Certainly not by accident. We must have people who can motivate the citizenry. People who will get into the communities and get buy-in for the national vision, engender support and develop trust between the various stakeholders.

Who can do this? It's not likely that the politicians, the civil service, or even the private sector will be able to do it. That leaves the non-government organisations (NGOs) and the Church. The NGO's lack the necessary resources. The Church can make a meaningful contribution, but it needs to be challenged, trained and its energies directed to creating the culture that we need. Somebody has to take the initiative to coordinate this effort. Who will lead the process? All the talk will come to nought.

A trained workforce — skills and attitude

Last week, in my column titled 'Who will bell the cat?', I asked a general question about our national educational strategies. I want to ask it again with specific reference to HEART Trust/NTA: Are we educating our children for Jamaica's prosperity and the modern world in subject, content, and usability?

Have we asked and are we clear on the areas in which we can realistically experience economic growth? If so, have we prepared the specific skilled personnel?

Are we training people for the jobs we expect to come? If we are truly expecting investments to create jobs, we need a workforce that is prepared to do those jobs. What are the kinds of jobs that will come? For example, since we are actively trying to locate oil, do we have workers for such an industry? If we are exploring nutraceuticals, are we training a sufficient number of chemists? We don't need all these lawyers; we need engineers, scientists, technicians, craftsmen, artisans, managers. Our job creation focus has to be about productivity.

We must train our people with a work ethic and productivity mindset. We don't yet seem to have realised that we are in a global market for labour. Even with the business process outsourcing sector we must compete with labour forces in other places. What are we doing to create a distinct advantage for Jamaican workers? Money spent on educating the workforce will never be wasted.

The University of Birmingham's College of Social Sciences Governance and Social Development Resource Centre International Development Department think tank group, in a paper called Civil Service Reform, quoted from public policy experts Schiavo-Campo and Sundaram:

“A necessary, but not sufficient condition for good governance is a skilled, motivated and efficient civil service with a professional ethos. By contrast, a bad civil service is a sufficient condition to produce bad governance.”

If their commentary is true, then our Jamaican civil service must be retrained in short order. Any Government serious about an economic growth agenda must, as a priority, turn its civil service into an efficient helpful service-oriented unit; not a human obstacle course to exert their authority to frustrate service-seeking citizens.

They must know, believe and get conscious that they exist to serve, solve problems, and make it easy for the average citizens, business person and all who seek their service. They exist for the people's interest and not the people who exist for them.

Training for behavioural and organisational change for service output is key to national success and prosperity. Change has to be intentional, not left to chance.

Culture change experts are therefore most urgently needed for our civil service. The economic growth agenda, no matter how robust, will be stifled by the old-styled bureaucracy that currently exists in many quarters of the civil service. A new culture must be created!

Bring in an organisational culture change team to drive the process in the shortest time. There are some good, quality people in the public service doing a fantastic job, yet their reputation is being spoiled and their service hidden by others stuck in an outdated, bureaucratic mode of operation. I am not convinced we have a competence problem; we have an attitude problem from wrong outlook.

To ignore this growth culture preparation and development is to have expectations that may not be realised. The quality and speed of growth will be equated to the quality of the environment in which the growth seeds are planted.

We must create a culture and an environment that fosters, from the womb to the tomb, the importance of working and producing for ourselves and our national economy. We must see the value of a respectful and service-driven civil service, and we must understand that all of us as citizens have a part to play in carrying the vision of a new and prosperous Jamaica.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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