JAMAICA’S new record unemployment rate of 6.2 per cent — 0.9 percentage points lower than in January 2021 — is not to be glossed over, and one wonders what might have been were it not for a devastating pandemic and that nasty Russia-Ukraine war.
If the Government of Prime Minister Andrew Holness wanted something to crow about, it could be the jobless rate, which is also showing male unemployment down to 4.8 per cent, female to 7.9 per cent, and youth unemployment rate to 17.7 per cent, at a time when there is every reason for more depressing figures.
The achievement further suggests that the guiding hand on the Jamaican economy is firm, steady, and certain — and we wish to commend the Government for its ability to keep focus amidst the turmoil.
Of course, there is understandable concern about the prime minister’s unexpected signal that Jamaica might have to import skilled labour in construction to meet the coming needs of projects, including seven major developments along the north coast.
To be clear, the notion of importing labour does not faze us. Countries do it all the time and we have benefited greatly through our farm workers, nurses, teachers and other professionals who are routinely recruited, notably by the United States, Canada, and Britain.
In fact, we do not join those who moan and groan about our trained professionals being hired by overseas programmes. We believe that their recruitment leaves vacancies to be filled by other Jamaicans who are jobless, and provides opportunities for training.
What we are concerned about in Mr Holness’s statement is the suddenness of the discovery that we are short of skilled labour — like groundsmen, tilers, plumbers, masons, carpenters and the like. If he had said engineers, architects, auditors and so forth we would not have been surprised.
We are led to believe that what we are seeing is another example of the well known fact that Jamaica’s management is always in crisis mode and that forward planning continues to elude us, usually because everything has to be achieved before the next elections.
All this talk over the years about joined-up government is nothing but the usual public relations trickery to which our country is treated from politicians who make big statements that are full of sound and fury, but signify nothing.
At the very least, Jamaica should not find itself short of skilled labour at the level at which the prime minister is speaking. We have a large pool of young people who need work. How long does it take to train groundsmen, plumbers, tilers, masons, and carpenters?
In a joined-up government, the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, and the Ministry of Labour’s employment and work permit sections would have had a working relationship with private sector entities such as the Jamaica Employers’ Federation and the Incorporated Masterbuilders Association of Jamaica to keep abreast of the needs of the construction industry.
And it is not only the construction industry which is affected, according to the prime minister who made it clear he was also referring to young people who fall away to crime who could instead be working in call centres, logistics operations, hospitals and in schools, “but we just don’t have them”.
Let’s cut the empty talk about joined-up government and start planning for the future.