President of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) John Mahfood has rejected the idea of importing skilled workers to fill employment gaps in local industries.
Speaking at the National Exporters’ Month Breakfast Forum on Thursday, Mahfood noted “if they are going to allow skilled workers to come in on a work programme it must be as a part of an apprenticeship programme.”
The JMEA president was reacting to remarks made by Prime Minister Andrew Holness last month that Jamaica could be force to import skilled worker particularly for the construction industry.
Holness, who was speaking at the ground-breaking of a 700-room at RIU Aquarelle in Trelawny, noted that there are a slew of construction projects to come on stream soon, however, skilled labourers are few.
Whereas Mahfood identifies that there is a shortage, he stresses that looking to import labour is counter-productive to the island’s development at this time.
“There’s talk of importing workers but importing workers is not the answer and it will not cause us to develop, it will keep us poor,” Mahfood argued.
At the same time, he noted that the shortage of skilled workers isn’t only plaguing the construction industry.
“There’s also been recent discussions about shortage of workers for construction, BPO and I understand KFC needs 800 workers,” Mahfood stated.
In offering a solution to the shortage of skilled workers, Mahfood stressed that apprenticeship must be considered.
“It can’t be that they allow folks from China to come into the construction industry, work three or four times what a Jamaican employee would be paid and then leave and there’s nothing remaining,” said Mahfood.
He continued, “I run a small construction site and I have tradesmen who have learned their skills from the Chinese by working on Chinese construction projects, that is an important way of teaching and it should be compulsory if they are going to allow people to come in from abroad.”
In the meantime, he explained there are structural issues in our local education system which must be addressed urgently. He said in order to really solve the problem policy makers should start by looking at Jamaica’s early childhood education system.
“This one million unemployed people is a serious indictment of our education system and in particular our early childhood education that allows children to leave primary school with no prospect for the future” he stated.
According to the latest Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) labour Force survey, as at January 2022 in a population of 2.7 million only 1.2 million persons are gainfully employed.
83,500 persons were unemployed but were either looking for work, wanting work or available for work.
About 755,600 persons were considered to be outside of the labour force because they were either full-time students, persons engaged in home duties, persons incapable of working or persons not wanting work or not available for work.