[Opinion column written by Jason Hayward]
Since 2007, Bermuda has lost roughly 6,500 jobs resulting in a decline of 3,696 Bermudian jobs. While Bermuda’s economy has shown some signs of stabilizing, it is not growing at an adequate rate to produce new jobs.
Business efficiencies and competitiveness have caused employers to re-examine pre-recession employment levels. As a result, the job market continues to struggle and has yet to rebound.
Theoretically, there are enough jobs on the Island to employ every Bermudian as there are more jobs in the economy then there are Bermudians in the workforce. Despite this, however, Bermudians still remain unemployed in disturbingly high numbers.
In recent years, an alarming trend has developed where the employment levels of expatriate employees have increased while, in sharp contrast, Bermudians continue to lose jobs. I believe it would be safe to say that we have a job and workforce development crisis on our hands.
Bermudian Employees & Competitiveness
It is evident that Bermuda’s unemployment levels are structural in nature. Unemployment is high yet local employers still cannot find the skillsets they demand within the local population causing them to import labour from other countries. There is seemingly a mismatch between the skillsets that the unemployed possess and the skills demanded by employers.
We have Bermudians who have been unemployed for 3 – 5 years, and while some are able to secure hustles or short-term, part-time work, full-time employment continues to elude them.
This creates an additional problem as the longer that these individuals remain unemployed, the more difficult it becomes for them to gain employment as their skill-sets become less relevant and may not be suitable for new job opportunities that exist. This ultimately reduces the competitiveness of the Bermudian employee.
Industrial Employment Shifts
We have experienced industrial shifts in our job market over the past decade. The job data from the Department of Statistics reflects that amongst Bermuda’s industrial sectors experiencing job losses since 2007, the top five industries affected include:
- Construction [-1,616 jobs],
- Hotels [-791],
- International Business [-789],
- Transportation & Communication [-719], and,
- Business Services [-622].
The Construction sector, which was once one of the leading employers on the Island, now barely ranks amongst the top ten industrial sectors. Those are the country’s trade jobs. Where do displace skilled construction workers, electricians, plumbers and carpenters find alternative employment in this economy?
Public Administration has grown to become the Country’s leading employer, overtaking International Business Activity. Some view the level of employment in this sector as a financial burden to the Country. However, the Public Administration sector has been a stabilizer, making it of significant importance to the job market and economy. Drastic cuts to employment in this sector would be catastrophic.
Where does the opportunities exist? The only industrial sector to experience job growth in the last decade is the Education, Health & Social Work Sector. This sector has grown by 437 jobs since 2007 and is now the third largest industry in terms of employment.
This industry is where we see both current and future job growth. Occupational categories within this industry that have a shortage of skilled Bermudians include: Registered Nurses, Dental Hygienists, Pharmacists, Secondary School Teachers, and Nursemaid/nannies.
The other notable occupational categories in other sectors that have a significant shortage of Bermudian employees include Financial Manager, Accountants, Brokers, Investment Officers, Police Officers, Waiters/Servers and Masons. These occupations are where the current opportunities exist.
Workforce Development Plan
Bermuda needs a workforce development plan to help realign the skillsets Bermudians possess with those that are in demand in the workforce; a comprehensive plan that will change our current trajectory.
In a recent Bernews article, I highlighted the key outputs of such a plan. To be successful, this plan would require buy-in from all critical stakeholders. The plan would also need to remove the barriers that are currently blocking Bermudians from having access to employment.
In order to reduce the structural unemployment issue, the workforce development plan must address two critical areas: 1. work experience, and, 2. education & skillset development.
When local employers cannot find the necessary skillsets in Bermuda that they require, they can import the labour with relative ease from another country. This may be great for business but it is ultimately bad for the Bermudian workforce. There is currently no framework in place to motivate or encourage an employer to invest in developing the local workforce.
Educated Bermudians remain locked out of employment because they lack the relevant work experience employer require. Experience they may have received, or can receive, if it was a condition of granting a work permit. Experience they can receive if employers have a long-term business strategy with Bermudian labour at its core.
Education and Skillsets Development:
Employees need to commit to re-tooling and retraining in areas that are in current and future demand. Resources must be made available to ensure that employees have access to training and skillset development programs.
The Bermuda College should be the bridge between skillsets demanded by the industry and skillsets held by employees. Professional and career guided development should be on the forefront of the College’s agenda; it should remain flexible to adapt and respond quickly to the ever-changing job market.
Currently, there is an 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. Given these alarming statistics, high-school students also need to prepare themselves for the current and future job market.
Students learning should be in direct alignment with the jobs that are currently in demand. Career counselors need to a play critical role in placing employees on career pathways that lead to employment.
Employers should broaden partnerships with the Department of Workforce Development, Bermuda College and the Senior Schools to increase the on-the -job training opportunities for Bermudians including, but not limited to:
- Co-operative education – college students alternate study semesters with paid work terms where they work on projects and gain job skills.
- Internship – a short-term position with an emphasis on education, not employment.
- In-house training – the employer offers formal or semi-formal sessions to teach new systems, applications, procedures or work duties.
- External training – the employer sends an employee to an off-site training program to help them learn new systems, applications, procedures or work duties. Some employers may enroll employees in college or university courses.
- Mentoring – employees are paired with a more senior employee and given personal coaching
- Job rotation – employees rotate through several positions within a company, exposing them to various aspects of the enterprise.
We must recognize that there is an urgent need to address the pressure that unemployment has placed on our current system. Unless there is critical intervention, many unemployed who do not re-tool themselves may never find their way back into the workforce.
The harsh reality is that there is no short-term solution to structural unemployment; we need systemic long-term solutions. Finding and implementing such solutions will require a multi-pronged approach that must include collaboration between the Government, industry, employers and individuals.
- Jason Hayward
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