‘Why Bermudians Struggle To Compete For Jobs’

November 13, 2013

Doug Soares, the founding partner of Expertise, recently addressed the Rotary Club on the topic of long term job trends and the degree to which the Bermudian workforce is adequately educated to meet the demands of the job market.

Mr Soares noted he was speaking about the long term trends in the Bermuda job market – not the short term – focusing on the impact of globalization on the Bermuda job market.

“Specifically, I am talking about how the internet, technological advances, and the relaxation of immigration policies around the world, is making it so quick and easy to eliminate or move jobs out of Bermuda,” said Mr Soares.

Mr Soares said that according to the Bermuda Government 2010 census, 26% of working age Bermudians possess no academic qualifications whatsoever.

“This means that 1 in 4 Bermudians did not graduate from secondary school and must compete for jobs with the 32% of working age Bermudians whose highest level of education is secondary school completion,” he continued.

“Take a moment to consider the type and number of jobs for which no education is required in Bermuda. The statistics tell us that Bermudians with little or no formal education tend to take up occupations such as clerical, construction, manufacturing, retail, transport, communications and utilities.

“Put simply, this job loss trend is troubling because far too many Bermudians with relatively low levels of education are now competing for a relatively small and declining number of elementary occupations.”

Saying that is only part of the reason for serious concern, Mr Soares said: “Current employment data indicates that there are literally hundreds of work permit holders filling jobs that require little or no formal education.

“For example, according to the 2012 Bermuda Employment survey, there were 319 work permit issued to waiters and waitresses and a further 193 work permits for landscape gardeners.

“Similarly, work permit holders can be found in large numbers in more than a dozen elementary occupations ranging from farmers and pot washers to childcare workers and cleaners.

“The popular response to stating this fact is simply to blame employers for cheating immigration rules to keep Bermudians out of such jobs. Another is to blame employers that pay too little such that Bermudians don’t bother to apply. Such blame is warranted in some cases, but not the majority.

“The truth is, as a Minister of Immigration from a previous administration used to say, in Bermuda we have a large number of ‘unemployables’.

“Included in this category is a wide range of Bermudians who are capable but often unwilling to comply with basic employment requirements like making applications for employment and showing up to work on time.

“Also included are Bermudians who say they are willing to work but have proven to be incapable due to social problems such as drug use.

“Another serious problem we face in Bermuda is focused at the opposite end of the job market and education continuum. That problem is that Bermuda produces far too few university graduates for the large and growing number of professional and managerial jobs.”

Mr Soares suggested that we set a national target to vastly improve the number of university graduate Bermudians, and also recommended we scrap Bermuda’s motto Quo Fata Ferunt – “Whither the fates carry us” – and replace it with a “credo and vision which inspires, motivates and guides Bermudians to engage in productive lives.”

Mr Soares full speech follows below:

When I consider the magnitude of what I am going to talk about today, it is impossible for me not to feel troubled. It’s a topic that goes to the heart of the struggle that Bermudians experience competing for jobs in our economy.

Today I am going to talk about the long term trends of job creation and job losses in Bermuda and the degree to which the Bermudian workforce is adequately educated to meet the demands of the job market.

It is important to note that I will be speaking about the long term trends in the Bermuda job market – not the short term. I am not referring to the jobs that have been lost due to the current recession; many of those jobs will be re-created once our economy recovers.

When I refer to long term trends, I am referring to the impact of globalization on the Bermuda job market, particularly over the past 12 to 15 years. Specifically, I am talking about how the internet, technological advances, and the relaxation of immigration policies around the world, is making it so quick and easy to eliminate or move jobs out of Bermuda.

Specifically I am talking about the hundreds of clerical and office administration jobs, once performed in Bermuda, that are now, with the click of a mouse, being performed North America, Europe and Asia. I am talking about the hundreds of retail sales people who are no longer employed in Bermuda due to the ease and convenience of online shopping.

I am talking about the hundreds of customer service personnel, in all sectors of our economy, from banking to travel agencies, which have been replaced by ATMs and online self service websites. I am talking about hundreds of industrial and manual labour jobs lost due to the use of more technological advanced vehicles, appliances and machinery. I am talking about the jobs that are gone and will not be coming back.

I will do my best not to inundate you with statistics, but data are required to illustrate the trend.

Bermuda Government census and employment survey data illustrate that, over the 12 year period 2000-2012, 442 clerical jobs left Bermuda or were eliminated. During the same 12 year period, 753 jobs were lost in Manufacturing; 1,087 lost in Retail and Repair Services; 782 lost in Transport and Communications; and 63 jobs in the Utilities industry.

That’s a total of 3,127 jobs lost from the Bermuda economy since the year 2000. The majority of those jobs were lost prior to the current recession, which began in 2009. And the majority, I suggest, are not likely to be re-created when the economy starts growing again because many of these jobs were lost due to technological advances and automation.

That is terrifying. Here’s why.

According to the Bermuda Government 2010 census, 26% of working age Bermudians possess no academic qualifications whatsoever. This means that 1 in 4 Bermudians did not graduate from secondary school and must compete for jobs with the 32% of working age Bermudians whose highest level of education is secondary school completion. Take a moment to consider the type and number of jobs for which no education is required in Bermuda.

The statistics tell us that Bermudians with little or no formal education tend to take up occupations such as clerical, construction, manufacturing, retail, transport, communications and utilities. Put simply, this job loss trend is troubling because far too many Bermudians with relatively low levels of education are now competing for a relatively small and declining number of elementary occupations.

But that’s only part reason for serious concern.

Current employment data indicates that there are literally hundreds of work permit holders filling jobs that require little or no formal education. For example, according to the 2012 Bermuda Employment survey, there were 319 work permit issued to waiters and waitresses and a further 193 work permits for landscape gardeners. Similarly, work permit holders can be found in large numbers in more than a dozen elementary occupations ranging from farmers and pot washers to childcare workers and cleaners.

The popular response to stating this fact is simply to blame employers for cheating immigration rules to keep Bermudians out of such jobs. Another is to blame employers that pay too little such that Bermudians don’t bother to apply. Such blame is warranted in some cases, but not the majority.

The truth is, as a Minister of Immigration from a previous administration used to say, in Bermuda we have a large number of “unemployables”. Included in this category is a wide range of Bermudians who are capable but often unwilling to comply with basic employment requirements like making applications for employment and showing up to work on time. Also included are Bermudians who say they are willing to work but have proven to be incapable due to social problems such as drug use.

Another serious problem we face in Bermuda is focused at the opposite end of the job market and education continuum. That problem is that Bermuda produces far too few university graduates for the large and growing number of professional and managerial jobs.

From the 2010 census we know that only 19% of the Bermudian working aged population possesses a degree. Although no data exists to know exactly how many jobs in Bermuda require a degree, the fact that we import 5,161 work permit holders with degrees indicates that our economy demands a far more highly educated workforce than Bermudians supply.

Census data from other countries also strongly suggests that the rate at which we produce university educated citizens is very low. Degree holders in the United States account for 31% of the working population. In the UK it’s 29%; Canada 27%; Singapore 23%; Switzerland 22% and Ireland 22%. It is clear; Bermuda lags many of our competitor jurisdictions and we must do better.

But how do we do better? I have more ideas than I have time to share today. But here are two key strategies.

The first idea is a simple one. Let’s set a national target to vastly improve the number of university graduate Bermudians. Perhaps we should aim to have 25% of Bermudians with a degree by 2020; 35% by 2030 and 40% by 2040.

I am not sure what targets are realistic but you get the idea. Without targets, there is no focused action and no accountability. We are now setting targets and measuring outcomes in our public education system; so we need to do it at the tertiary level. The number of university graduate Bermudians improved from 14% in 2000 to 19% in 2010 – so we are moving in the right direction, but we must accelerate our rate of progress.

The second idea I have is less obvious but I think, equally important. I recommend that we scrap Bermuda’s motto Quo Fata Ferunt – “Whither the fates carry us” – and replace it with a credo and vision which inspires, motivates and guides Bermudians to engage in productive lives.

We need something that every Bermudian can get jazzed about. What do you think such a vision ought to be? I envision a new coat of arms for Bermuda, with a friendlier red lion holding a more positive image than a shipwreck, together with the adage “The most hospitable people on earth”.

Why? Because if Bermudians truly are the most hospitable people on earth, we will enrich ourselves economically and heal ourselves socially.

Economically it would serve to remind us that we earn our living in no other way than by being hospitable hosts to international companies seeking to maximize their profit and hospitable hosts to tourists seeking to maximize their fun.

It would serve us socially because it will encourage us to solve some deep-rooted problems which cause many Bermudians to be undereducated and inhospitable; serious problems such as poor parenting, sub-standard teaching in schools, child abuse, drug addiction and racism. To be sure, racism needs to be addressed because our history of racial injustice is, in large part, the cause of the educational underachievement of many Bermudians.

Also, I believe, if Bermudians were to become known as the most hospitable people on earth, we would be a proud people. Just think how cool Bermudians would feel to be known as citizens of the most hospitable country on earth! Just think about how being the most hospitable people on earth would enhance the value proposition for investors seeking to set up international businesses in Bermuda. Just ponder how tourists would feel being served by the most hospitable people on earth.

Put simply, just as an organization needs a clear vision to help focus and motivate its people to work productively, a country needs one too. Perhaps Bermudians will think twice about frowning upon service jobs such as waiters if they felt the intrinsic pull of being viewed as one of the most hospitable people in the world.

In closing, I would like to state the obvious. We cannot change the way the global economy works and no amount of badmouthing foreigners will help. We must accept the reality that there are relatively few jobs left in our economy that are inextricable bound to Bermuda. Most jobs now belong to the global economy; some of them just happen to be in Bermuda. Consequently, long ago Governments around the world liberalized their immigration policies to remain competitive. We must do the same in Bermuda if we are to remain economically viable.

Put bluntly, the unearned privilege of being born Bermudian is diminishing rapidly. As frightening as that is for our undereducated workforce, our Department of Immigration can no longer protect us as it could 10 or 15 years ago. Our best defense against the forces of global competition is to rapidly improve the education level of the Bermudian workforce. We must act urgently.

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Comments (41)

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  1. campervan says:

    Incoming!
    Put your hard hat on Doug.
    Thanks for the honesty.

    • Mazumbo says:

      What’s the excuse for blue collar unemployment ???????????????
      Globalization-cheap labor, no benefits(blue collar)

  2. Double Standards says:

    I believe that in order to prepare the future generations for the BDA workforce/economy courses such as insurance/re-insurance accounting, insurance/re-insurance underwriting courses and other financial based curriculum should be implemented at the high school level.

    Add to that a trade school (on a larger scale than what is currently offered at Cedarbridge) for pupils that have no interest in working in a financial/office type atmosphere.

  3. Victor says:

    Mr. Soares, being a good waiter or waitress requires training, skill, awareness, stamina, and dedication, every bit as much as what are considered more academic pursuits. All too often Bermudians (white, black, and even rainbow ones) confuse Service with Servitude, not a good thing – if you want the restaurant trade to go to hell, Bermudianise it, something not even the Col managed to do. In any case, as soon as the economy rights itself, would-be Bermudian waiters will quickly make a bee-line to more profitable trades such as construction, taxis, etc. Getting rid of more foreigners is no way to fix the economy; (legislation mandating in the case of work permit holders no more than two single persons or one family per assessment number might be).

    • Tommy Chong says:

      It seems that you & Mr. Soares share the same habit of presumption. Hope your using a roller brush to paint all 2000 plus Bermudians because at that quantity a regular brush just wont do.

      • Victor says:

        Nonsense; the point being that we’ve seen this all before – we used to have an entire hotel college (later a faculty in Bermuda College) that successfully trained hundreds of Bermudians for hospitality careers. Pray, where are these folks now? And they are absolutely right in their choices; why would any right minded person be toiling hotel or restaurant hours if they could have regular daylight hours earning more money along with proper free/family time to attend to what is genuinely important in life?

        • Tommy Chong says:

          You type the word nonsense then go on presumption that ones that Bermudians that graduated with hospitality degrees don’t work in the industry because of the working hours. Much of the hotel workers are on shifts already & there are Bermudians working these shifts also. There are loads of Bermudians who work two jobs a day & a night job. You contradict yourself by first stating Bermudians want profitable trades like taxis & then mention hours in your next comment. Taxi drivers work all hours even to the wee hours of the morning when most expats are knocked off & with the amount of competition out there taxi driving isn’t that profitable. Construction was the other profitable trade that you mention all these locals flock to. Construction is not for everyone & just one day on a construction site will send someone back to hospitality if thats where they came from.

          • Victor says:

            Tommy stop nitpicking. The reality of the past thirty years is that the vast majority of Bermudians who were in the hospitality trade moved on to positions in other industries, especially IB but also too construction, etc. Yes, a few are still in hospitality, but that is the exception. You and Mr. Soares should be applauding Bermudians for getting ahead rather than conspiring to have us all back serving Planters Punches with tacky umbrellas in them.

    • Triangle Drifter says:

      Oh really! How much training do you think all those college & university kids who work at places like Chili’s, TGIF, Applebyes, Red Lobster etc. have had. Never had bad service at any of those places. Nothing but prompt pleasant, attentive (too attentive sometimes) service at any of those places.

      It is all about attitude towards work. Having to earn that tip helps too. Also knowing that there are plenty more outside the door who would like the job is a good inspiration to do well.

      All jobs are service jobs. Bermudians need to get this ‘servitude’ thing out of their heads.

  4. smh says:

    “26% of Bermudians hold no academic qualifications?!” I wonder how many of that 26% are under the age of 40? If true, that is an alarming stat. Education is free here so what the heck are parents doing with their kids?!

    Its scary to think of what Bermuda will be in another 10 yrs if drastic changes aren’t made… Starting within the household.

    • Tommy Chong says:

      That’s if you really believe approximately over 16,000 of Bermuda’s population never graduated from high school.

  5. Malachi says:

    Your points duly noted Mr. Soares.

    There is, however, the issue of a certain culture, particularly in the IB sector, whereby the powers that be (Immigration Department) seldom, if ever, challenge the need for a certain work permit to be issued in the first place.

    I’m sure that many Bermudians, both black and white have seen the “tailored” advertisements. You know, the ones that ask for five years experience in a certain field, a certain educational requirement, and by the way, also be fluent in Russian! Of course, the ability to speak Russian really has nothing to do with the job in question, but the person who has already been pegged for the position just happens to speak it.

    I can remember a few years ago applying for a position with a prominent local brokerage firm. An interview was set up, but the day before the interview was to take place, I received a call advising that the interview had been cancelled as the position was no longer being considered. By sheer coincidence, I learned that an friend of mine had applied for the same job, was scheduled for an interview as well, and had her interview cancelled too.

    Within two weeks of the original advertisement, this company posted a new ad. The new ad listed all of the requirements of the original ad, but included another “qualification”. The intent was clear.

    Being somewhat upset over the issue, I decided to call Immigration. After telling my story, the lady to whom I spoke responded with:

    “well why would you want to work for a company like that in the first place”

    The point I am making that Bermuda is often held hostage by IB, which I’m guessing can always use the excuse that they can take their business elsewhere.

    We are sometimes, as they say, “stuck between a rock and a hard place”.

    • Colonial Greetings says:

      Maybe you should learn Russian, Malachi. On the plus side, you got to whine to Immigration for 5 minutes and they were obliged to listen to you.

    • Reas0n says:

      Nice sense of entitlement. Go learn Russian, because that’s what many (many!) determined people all over the world will do.

      Being Bermudian is not a qualification.

      • Malachi says:

        @Reas0n: Not sure what you are saying – can you elaborate? Did I say something to suggest that I was entitled to anything?

        By the way, spasibo means “thank you” in Russian!

        • Colonial Greetings says:

          It is pronounced spaseeBA, Malachi. I see why you didn’t ace that particular interview.

          • Malachi says:

            Remember, I didn’t have the interview. Neither did my friend. Could it be that when the original ad was worded they didn’t expect any local applicants?
            (the job was in fact a contract renewal)

            And I am sorry sir, please forgive my mispronunciation – lucky for me my resume was in English, not Russian.

        • Reas0n says:

          I just commented but it may not have worked, so I’ll try again:

          Perhaps I misread, but I got the entitled vibe from:

          - “Bermuda is often held hostage by IB”
          - “Being somewhat upset over the issue, I decided to call Immigration.”

          “IB” does not exist to serve Bermuda or Bermudians. They are here for $$.

          If you don’e like the way they work, i.e. you didn’t get your way, then get a “local” job.

    • foldgers says:

      I have to agreee with you!! Serveral years ago I applied for a job.. when I called the company , they started asking me questions in another language, i replied in the same language! Lol. They hired me from a telphone interview. Imagine their surprise when I walked in. It was priceless. I stayed with them for several years. What I learned from working with them is that things are done very different for foreigners than for Bermudians. I saw the tailor made ads, I saw some foreigners being brought in with no skills at all. I even saw a foreigner hired straight from out of jail in his country and brought here. I knew money was being exchanged and favors being done for certain people who sat on the immigration board. I reported things. There were some fines. The most incredible thing that happened was when a memeber of the immigration board let them know it was me who was helping to investigate them. after that the relationship soured. Those people are still here. Bermudians are being shafted for the sake of a few who want to live high at the expense of Bermudians having fair opportunity. I witnessed this myself… not second hand.. We are not lazy.. we are victims of greed..

  6. Tommy Chong says:

    “Current employment data indicates that there are literally hundreds of work permit holders filling jobs that require little or no formal education.

    “For example, according to the 2012 Bermuda Employment survey, there were 319 work permit issued to waiters and waitresses and a further 193 work permits for landscape gardeners.

    “Similarly, work permit holders can be found in large numbers in more than a dozen elementary occupations ranging from farmers and pot washers to childcare workers and cleaners.

    “The popular response to stating this fact is simply to blame employers for cheating immigration rules to keep Bermudians out of such jobs. Another is to blame employers that pay too little such that Bermudians don’t bother to apply. Such blame is warranted in some cases, but not the majority.

    “The truth is, as a Minister of Immigration from a previous administration used to say, in Bermuda we have a large number of ‘unemployables’.

    “Included in this category is a wide range of Bermudians who are capable but often unwilling to comply with basic employment requirements like making applications for employment and showing up to work on time.”

    “Also included are Bermudians who say they are willing to work but have proven to be incapable due to social problems such as drug use.”

    Taking hard numerical facts & sprinkling it with presumption doesn’t make whats presumed true. If there is factual evidence that the majority of the 2000 plus unemployed aren’t handing in applications, posses poor work ethics or they have a drug addiction then show us the data.

    If you know, “Such blame is warranted in some cases” then why haven’t you reported those cases to the authorities?

    • js says:

      so yesterday’s unemployables are today’s criminals

      says a lot about social planning in Bermuda

      I suppose Bermuda will also turn a blind eye to today’s unemployables and hope they don’t become tomorrow’s criminals

      denial is a hell of a drug

      • Victor says:

        js, I suspect that much of Tommy’s naivete stems from the fact that he has never had to meet a payroll – or not, which is even more interesting – should that day come for him, I’m sure he’ll quickly be singing a different tune. As for Mr. Soares, just what we need at this moment, more consultants…

    • Reas0n says:

      I don’t understand what you are trying to dispute lol. Looks like some of what he says hit home… Hahahaha

      • Tommy Chong says:

        From the way you type I can understand how you wouldn’t understand much of anything. I guess thats why you’re too imbecilic to see how unemployment hits home to everyone living on this island. Although I bet with your apparent IQ you would be unemployed if you were living back home. :D

        • Reas0n says:

          Your entire insult is based on the premise that I am an ‘imbecile’… Established by the ‘way I type’. Well good come back… I guess? :D

          PS I am home

  7. sugra says:

    There’s certainly no argument that we need to improve the education of our people, but would also echo previous comments in that vocational/trade training is one area we have largely ignored… and to our great detriment.

    Mike Rowe (love that guy) has been on a great campaign advocating for vocational training; trying to restore the truth that trades are just as respectable as any job and don’t have to be the “second choice”.

    One size does not fit all.

    This is worth your 5 mins. Not entirely in context for Bermuda, but most of the main points hold true:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_BDOIps9MM

    http://www.mikeroweworks.com/mikes-office/work-is-not-the-enemy/

  8. swing voter says:

    I remember dropping out of BDA college and taking jobs (any jobs) to keep my parents off my back….hotel, construction, and other BS work was plentiful back then and there were plenty of us young eager teens availible and willing to work, and work hard. These kids now days don’t want to work, but they want to get paid. Lazy bastids

  9. campervan says:

    Are there one or two cases where nepotism is used to disbar Bermudians of an employment opportunity? Yes! Its a human condition that happens the World over and will continue to happen as long as humans exist.
    Do Bermudians with suitable qualifications have a much greater chance to enter into the world of IB than perhaps anywhere else in the world? Yes!
    So look in the mirror, quit your whining, and take advantage of all that is offered.

    • Reas0n says:

      “Take advantage of all that is offered”

      Ugggh but that sounds like a lot of work. I’m Bermudian… Isn’t that enough?

  10. Malachi says:

    @Reas0n and Campervan: My reference to speaking Russian as a qualification was simply an fictitious example of a “tailored” ad. That qualification was NOT cited in my personal situation.

    And I don’t know why you would think I was whining. The title of this story is “Why Bermudians Struggle To Compete for Jobs”, and Mr. Soares shares his thoughts on the subject.

    All I did was to speak to a reality that sometimes exist – hence “caught between a rock and a hard place”

    So please, don’t try to put your own spin on my thoughts. I believe most people reading my blog above understand where I am coming from.

    • Malachi says:

      ,,oops should be “a” fictitious example and not “an”
      – lest I get arrested by the grammar police :)

    • Reas0n says:

      I know you weren’t serious about Russian, but my point still stands. You want to be successful in cutthroat industries, then devote your life to honing your skills, because that’s the kind of people these companies have access to.

      • Malachi says:

        Whining is one thing – making people aware of the realities of life is quite another.

        If you knew me, you might call me a lot of things.

        A whiner would not be one of them!

      • Malachi says:

        I have worked in IB for a long time alongside locals and expats alike. Some of the expats were brilliant, and I learned from many of them.

        There were also many that were, shall we say “not so brilliant”. And believe it or not, there were many Bermudian underlings far smarter than their expat superiors.

        I am certain there are readers out there who will attest to that.

        Sometimes life is not fair, and it sometimes transpires that all the skills in the world won’t necessarily get you to the top.

        • Reas0n says:

          “All the skills in the world won’t necessarily get you to the top”

          Who said anything about the top? Skills will get you a good job. That’s what the youth need to set their sights upon. Not the “top”.

  11. feel the love says:

    I read many of these type articles and have to say this one hits the nail on the head. If you want to get forward in life educate yourself. Doesn’t matter if it is in the insurance industry, law, construction, hospitality or whatever. Yes, government should look at all options. Are there injustices here in Bermuda where an expat gets hired before a qualified local?…yes! Are there instances where a local gets hired instead of an expat just because they are Bermudian and not as qualified?…yes! I have seen both…an expat brought in instead of a local more qualified and a local cruising thru their job knowing they can’t be fired strictly because they are local. People get over it! Life is not always fair and you need to work to get where you want to be.
    I find the bickering about employment in Bermuda ridiculous. If you really want a job you will find a way to get it. Injustices in the workplace happen the world over. Like it or not the world is a global economy and you better get ready if you are not already to deal with it.
    You want a job in Bermuda?….local or expat…educate yourself, make yourself the best candidate you can. You will not win a job 100% of the time…show me a place where you will! Not interested in making yourself a better person and job candidate…well, deal with the consequences and stop blaming others who choose to make their life better.
    It really is that simple, at least everywhere else in the world except Bermuda (global economy remember?). Our country better wake up or it will soon be another third world country with no IB and no tourism. Please tell me what you intend to do then for a job.

  12. SMH says:

    Doug Soares hit the nail on the head! This is the stark reality that can be addressed. Education and reality checks is the way forward. The throne speech on education should have addressed this glaring reality. Doug Soares for Education Minister!!!!!