FLANKER, St James - NOW that they have graduated from a Ministry of National Security-led programme geared towards providing opportunities for inner-city residents, two of the top performers from western Jamaica have their sights set on jobs abroad.
A little more than 30 young men and women participated in the six-month-long Commercial/Articulated Truck Driver Programme at the Caribbean Military Technical Training Institute. Chantol Spence, a resident of the gritty Meghie Top section of Salt Spring in St James, was named the Highest Academic Achiever and Most Outstanding Student. Now armed with certification to prove she can operate heavy vehicles, she is clear on where she wants her future to be. It is not Jamaica.
"Driving a manual vehicle has always been a dream of mine. I plan to spend a few months here and then hopefully travel across the world to drive trucks," Spence told the Jamaica Observer West after the graduation ceremony held last week.
The course provides participants with the technical knowledge and skill to operate trailers, trucks and buses, delivery vehicles, for-hire, and other commercial vehicles. It is an initiative of the Ministry of National Security and is facilitated by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) through the Caribbean Military Technical Training Institute, in partnership with HEART/NSTA Trust and Caribbean Maritime University.
During the graduation ceremony, course conceptualiser and Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang expressed confidence in the JDF's stewardship of the programme, noting that the entity "can, in fact, assist in developing a cohort of young Jamaicans with a commitment to the country, with a commitment to integrity, and with a commitment to a quality of life that we all look forward to in Jamaica".
It is unclear if participants are bonded or have any obligation to the State.
Like Spence, Andre Pinnock thinks his future is beyond Jamaica's borders. The Mount Salem, St James, native copped the course's Best Driver Award. He is looking forward to getting behind the wheel.
"Mi can go overseas go do it, or in the country same way, but the main goal is to reach overseas and go on push the truck the same way. We all have the [skills to drive] 18-wheeler trucks," he said.
Chang is convinced that this and other youth engagement programmes will eventually break the back of the stigma attached to inner-city communities which makes it a challenge for residents to gain employment.
"What we are hoping to do is that by taking you through this programme where you can say you trained at the Caribbean Military Technical Institute so that these persons will take a second look and call Major McDonald or just invite you in for an interview and discuss with you, who you are, the skills you have, and offer you that job," he told graduates.
"We have inherited a country where we literally stigmatised an entire community, unfortunately. We are fighting that. And as we broaden our youth engagement programme I am confident that once we get there I know we will overcome the… crime and the violence that beset our community," he added.
The security minister said the Government plans to expand the programme, which started in 2021 and now targets unattached youth in western Jamaica and sections of the Corporate Area. The first cohort started training in January 2021 at the Caribbean Military Academy's Cornwall campus in Montego Bay while the second cohort started in May 2021 at the Kingston campus at Up Park Camp.
"We have created an alternative for young people who want to lead a positive way of life. We are offering the young men and women in these challenged communities a positive alternative," Chang declared.
The course is one of several Government initiatives designed to give hope to the country's youth and provide them with the opportunity to earn through legitimate means. Once they complete the six-month programme, participants are awarded a National Council on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (NCTVET) certificate and — for those who do not yet have one — a general driver's licence.