[Opinion column written by Jason Hayward]
In February 2017, I was fortunate to be invited along with four other Bermudian professionals to take part in a 10-day International Visitor Leadership Program. This program was facilitated by the United States’ Department of State in conjunction with the U.S. Consulate in Bermuda.
The focus of the International Visitor Leadership Program was “Workforce Development”; a timely topic as this is a current area of concern in Bermuda.
The group travelled to four U.S. States, visiting seven U.S. cites and meeting with over twenty diverse organizations that were engaged in workforce development initiatives.
The Bermuda delegation gained a sound understanding of the aims and objectives of those organizations, the strategies that led to their organizational effectiveness and the barriers that prohibited those organizations from meeting their output objectives.
During the course of the program, it was evident that workforce development is a national priority.
This was particularly highlighted by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, signed into law by the former President Barack Obama in 2014, which provides the legislative framework at the federal level, and drives and supports most of the workforce development systems at both the state and regional level.
The Act is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labour market as well as to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy.
The absence of a comprehensive legislative framework to drive or support a workforce development system along with Bermuda’s unprecedented unemployment levels highlights the root cause of our local workforce development problems.
There are other glaring differences between the U.S. and Bermuda’s approach to workforce development, the most notable being that the U.S. system incorporates the following key elements:
1. The alignment of the workforce development system
- Organizations operate in an aligned workforce development system sharing common goals and objectives while leveraging resources to ensure the system meets the needs of the business community and the people that they serve.
2. The access to advanced education and training opportunities
- The U.S. workforce development system provides the necessary advanced education and training, equipping people with the skills and knowledge needed to participate in the economy and compete in today’s workforce.
3. The engagement of the business community
There was a relatively high level of engagement with the business community by organizations in the workforce development system, creating an understanding of employers’ needs and facilitating mutually beneficial partnerships.
While Bermuda’s system contains some of these elements, it currently lacks critical features of effectiveness. These weaknesses are revealed in the outputs and continual decline of Bermudians in the workforce including:
- Extremely high youth unemployment with the 2015 unemployment rate of 23% for persons aged 16 to 24 and 9% for the 25 to 34 age cohort;
- Seven-consecutive years of declining jobs with the 37,399 jobs recorded in 2011 falling to 33,319 in 2015, and;
- The reduction in the number of employed Bermudians falling from 26,187 in 2011 to 23,576 in 2015.
Chart Source: Bermuda Government, Department of Statistics: Employment Briefs [June 2016]
A workforce development plan for Bermuda is fundamentally critical as it will create the framework for an integrated system of effectiveness and provide Bermuda with positive social and economic outcomes.
Bermuda needs a workforce development plan which will:
- Create career pipelines and career pathway opportunities for Bermudians [career objectives aligned with education];
- Align organizations in the system [schools, colleges, government departments, NGOs and the business community];
- Provide effective training and education [employability skills, industry specific training, apprenticeships, on the job training and professional education];
- Ensure adequate funding is provided for workforce development programs;
- Provide support to unemployed disabled persons for re-entry into the workforce;
- Protect Bermudian workers from policies that support open access to expatriate workers;
- Strengthen the role of the Bermuda College in workforce development [building programs that are in alignment with job market demands];
- Change misguided perceptions of hospitality and technical occupations;
- Facilitate the Department of Workforce Development’s transition into a genuine one-stop service center [serving both the unemployed and underemployed];
- Encourage entrepreneurship;
- Facilitate the creation of a workforce development and industry advisory job boards, and
- Provide a frame for workforce development incentives for employers.
We must recognize that there is an urgent need to address the pressure that unemployment has placed on our current system.
The current skill and interest gaps that has created a mismatch between what businesses require and what is possessed by the unemployed will not realign themselves without critical intervention.
There are currently more jobs in the market than Bermudians in the workforce which points to untapped opportunities for Bermudians.
No longer should a lack of work experience, education, technical and soft skills be used as an excuse to not hire Bermudians. We need a strategy to match job seekers with jobs; and a well-structured workforce development plan can get Bermudians back to work.
- Jason Hayward
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