THE Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) has become the latest Jamaican entity to tap opportunities in oil-rich Guyana, signing a five-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the University of Guyana (UG) under which joint programmes are to be offered to train the labour force for the jobs of the future.
Guyana, which a generation ago was labelled the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti, has been attracting dozens of opportunity seekers since its economy entered a phase of rapid growth following the discovery of oil in 2015. Growth touched 57.8 per cent last year — the highest in the world — and though it is expected to slow to an average 25 per cent over the next four years, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts it will still be enough to propel Guyana's per capita income to US$35,367, roughly on par with wealthy nations like Italy and ahead of Japan. A decade ago, Guyana's per capita income was US$5,576, closer to Jamaica's US$5,143.
Such blistering growth lured the CMU to visit the South American country to eke out its own share. So far, discussions with the University of Guyana, which have led to an MOU for both institutions to offer joint programmes to train the labour force for the new jobs in the quickly changing economy, have been the most fruitful.
"There are so many opportunities for the broader population of Guyana to get them ready for what's coming in the next wave of massive and intense development," Professor Andrew Spencer, president of the CMU, told the Jamaica Observer earlier this week. "More importantly, I think, is our access as well to the over 11,000 students enrolled at the University of Guyana," he continued.
Spencer said one of the programmes to be rolled out immediately in partnership with UG is an advanced certificate in liquefied petroleum operation, which is offered nowhere else in the region. However, the joint training programmes are expected to extend beyond that.
"The experts studying Guyana and its labour force market are saying we need to provide at least 15,000 to 20,000 people for employment each year across 60 or so different industries," Professor Paloma Mohamed Martin, vice chancellor of the UG outlined to the Caribbean Business Report. "We are producing in the country, just about 6,000 or 7,000 graduates per year. The University of Guyana produces about 3,000 [of those] graduates each year...So there seems to be a good opportunity for employment of trained, skilled persons in Guyana," she observed.
Both institutions also plan to exploit opportunities to provide policy guidance on marine matters for regional governments and businesses. UG has a strong programme in marine environment and CMU has a strong programme in marine biotechnology.
"One of the things we bring to the table, which is fairly non-existent anywhere else in the Caribbean, is the CMU's cutting-edge innovation in the area of applied technology for engineering in the maritime and marine space. Also our focus on cybersecurity, cyber forensics, digital forensics. port management, international shipping, and customs freight forwarding," Spencer pointed out.
He envisions the MOU will likely include visiting professorships between the two universities and the opportunity for enterprise projects as well.
"We would expect that in the next three years we would be able to at least have three or four programmes together that will graduate about 1,000 people. That's our target," Martin emphasised, adding that though the CMU and UG are spearheading the project, other universities are involved and the training is open to everyone in the region, not just people in Guyana and Jamaica.
"One of the things that people may or may not know, is that there are at least three or four other countries in the Caribbean that are prospecting offshore for oil and gas. They are being very quiet about it and not opening up yet, and may have quite large deposits. So they would want some of their people to get ready."
"So we're just working out the marketing as to how that is going to work and the logistics of how that's going to work. And if we are able to get our enterprise project and our marine research project, which are already being written as we speak, off the ground, that is going to bring immense benefits in terms of understanding ourselves, how we can monetise those, and what the risks to our marine environment are in a much better way for the region."
However, beyond the maritime project, Martin said there are prospects to work with the CMU on technology.
"They have this whole manufacturing process simulation lab, a series of labs in that university that can take you from a small prototype of something, up to a big automated prototype. And that is something [we are interested in]. We have a faculty of engineering and technology but we don't have the lab, so we can marry those two kinds of capabilities."
For Spencer who prospected for the opportunity, the push is to expand the CMUs reach into the region.
"We want to be able to impact the region while ensuring that our universities are sustained in financial ways," Spencer declared. "We're underserving our region, and it's not for lack of understanding of governments. We simply don't have enough endemic outlets to be able to reach our people in a significant way to change their trajectory, and to have high percentages of our populations being tertiary level educated. So the first thing that this does and the biggest long-term gain is that we're going to equip our people to be able to service the natural resources that exist throughout the region, and it's more than oil and gas. We're enabling our people to be able to do the jobs and reducing the need for us to engage with expatriate labour."
He said while the CMU has had relationships throughout the Eastern Caribbean in the past "there was always the untapped area that existed in Guyana, even before we knew that Guyana had found such a rich mineral content and other discoveries."
But Martin said the partnership has more long-term benefits for investors looking to Guyana which could be used as a launch pad to enter markets in South America.
"Think of Guyana in this very geostrategic way. It is ocean facing. It is Caribbean facing. It is South American facing, but with very close links to North America."
They are benefits the CMU is keenly eyeing.
"Beyond the MOU, there is a vast area of opportunity to do with movement by sea, movement out of ports, movement into ports and the border security surrounding that. Our nations are struggling and in terms of the crime situation a lot of that has to do with border security. These are all areas that have to do with movement, internationally, across borders, and so on. And these are the things we want to challenge. We want to provide solutions that mean something to nations in terms of controlling porous borders, in terms of ensuring that there's integrity in terms of ensuring that we're applying the right technologies for efficiency, in terms of ensuring that we can have excellent customer service in ports that are emerging, and a number of ports will emerge in Guyana."
"This is bigger than the four or five page MOU we've signed. This is something that's going to catalyse regional development, and it's something that's going to make us the envy of partners in more developed parts of the world," Spencer closed.