Column: Cole Simons Helping Young People

July 21, 2020 | 0 Comments

[Column written by Shadow Education and Economic Development Minister Cole Simons]

Let’s support our young people, by helping them get back to work.

As you all can agree, the Covid 19 pandemic has really taken its toll on Bermuda’s youth unemployment.

If you look at Bermuda’s 2018 workforce development survey, you will find that the unemployment rate for persons under 25 declined to 18% of that population. This is triple the then national unemployment rate of 6%. Can you now imagine, what it is post Covid-19? We can conservatively estimate this to fall in the range of 20 to 25%.

These staggering realities are causing anxiety with many of our young people. They are frustrated with living at home with their parents, they are looking overseas for employment opportunities, some are knocking on doors looking for jobs, and others are doing what ever they can to survive to maintain their dignity and self sufficiency. Others who may not be as ambitious, are getting involved in nefarious activities and the gang culture and are placing themselves at risk. Other have just given up, and are letting the days pass them by.

What can we do? How can we support our young relatives, friends, and associates?

Let’s begin with the Bermuda College.

Bermuda College is a national a treasure. The Government of Bermuda and Bermuda’s private sector allocates significant resources and investments to the College annually, to ensure its success. It is internationally recognized and operates with internationally accredited standards. Its reputation is bearing fruit and can be compared to, and stands on equal footing with, many North American and UK institutions.

It is more than qualified to contribute to develop young people and to address the increased unemployment of Bermuda’s young people.

As in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and recession, the College was at the heart of Bermuda’s recovery initiatives, especially for your young people and young adults. It played an integral role in helping to rebuild Bermuda’s economy. Today, it must step forward and play a similar role. This is important as Bermuda has not seen a recession of this scale for decades.

The gains that Bermuda has realized since the 2008 global crisis can not be placed at risk. How can we mitigate this risk?

We can do so by providing tertiary education in a manner which is flexible and adaptive to the needs of our young people, our vulnerable, single parents and our disabled learners and our business community.

Our college must continue to provide a more work-based curriculum that will support our economic recovery. This can be done by introducing short-term professional development courses, trade courses, hospitality courses, and business courses which can be provisionally geared for furloughed staff and young people who wish to retrain and upgrade their skills.

In addition, the College could position itself to provide Post Graduate Skill’s Training to students and professionals who may have lost their jobs through mergers and acquisition, outsourcings or redundancies.

These programmes can be done through the College’s in-house programmes, or through the articulation programs the College enjoys with other international universities.

These programmes can include health sciences, insurance/reinsurance, entrepreneurship, financial services, banking, web-based technology, and other professional designations.

The other tool is apprenticeships and traineeships

When it comes to apprenticeships and traineeships, the Government must continue to take the lead. They must bring more Bermuda business partners on board, and to the table. This is vital, given that these schemes have a proven track record of making valued contribution to our society, developing of our young people, developing our employment market, and providing employment for our younger employees.

Despite the above, many of our business partners have been financially challenged. Some of our partners have closed, and some are still in business but have had to suspend many of their apprenticeship. Let’s bring them back to the table.

We need a real respectful partnership. The Government must support these businesses and provide them with incentives to reignite their training programmes.

Here it should be noted that a number of our business partners also need a shift of their mindset. They cannot continue to be reluctant to hire our graduates because the feel that they are seen as providing a baby-sitting service.

Some mason, carpenters and mechanics have said that they support the apprenticeship initiatives but are not prepared to provide babysitting services. We need young people who are capable, willing and will work.

Look, I understand their reservations, but if they want to truly improve their business’ productivity and reputation, they must park their old mindset at the door. Everyone must have skin in the game. They must make a commitment to work the with the workforce development team and our young interns, apprentices and trainees as everyone will benefit.

Let’s be honest, we all know that the Workforce Development team is doing the best that they can. They are trying to provide career pathways for our young people. They are providing apprenticeship programmes for new employees.

They are facilitating and providing traineeship and apprenticeships for locals who want to retool themselves. They also providing local internships to local companies, and external internships to overseas companies. They provide scholarships to our young people and facilitate day release programmes through our Bermuda business partners and the Bermuda College and they provide certification programmes for promising employees. There are also many other positive things that they do to deliver qualified people poised and ready to enter Bermuda’s workforce.

Having said that though, the workforce development team has its challenges. They cannot deliver the goods, be effective and reduce Bermuda’s youth unemployment challenges by themselves.

They need the support, synergy, and collaboration of the Bermuda College, the National Training Board, the Department of Immigration, a workforce equity team, and industry. They must work together for the benefit of the whole. They all must come together and have skin in the game. Collaboratively they all must be together, and they all must be on board. They should have regular meetings with all stakeholders at the table.

The immigration department and the Workforce Development department should have systems which speak to each other with live data. Workforce Development could have accessed a live profile of the Department of Immigration’s job market demands.

The Immigration Department should have access to Workforce Development’s live data which show the development and qualifications of those young Bermudians who continue to qualify and graduate from the various training courses, and who are capable of filling jobs presented to our Department of Immigration.

This silo business mentality and infrastructure must stop. It benefits no one.

This silo infrastructure recently presented itself by the newly appointed Minister of Immigration, who was asked in the House of Assembly by the Shadow Minister of Immigration, how many people applied for the 159 work permits which were declined the Department?

The Minister responded by saying that he did not know the answer, and he gave an undertaking to get that information for the House when he had the answer.

Quite frankly, I applaud the Minister for his honesty, as the information was not made available to him. He was placed in this precarious position because he really did not know the number of Bermudians available and capable of doing the job, because the Workforce Development team and the Immigration teams were working in silos.

These two government department systems are not integrated. They are not feeding each other, and so the outcome was that our employers were not getting their employees to sustain their businesses, and our workforce development graduates were not getting the jobs declined in the community, by the Department of Immigration.

There were no winners because of poor governance and management, poor communications, and a lack of proper collaboration within this Government.

Our young people loose out again.

Creating jobs and hiring young Bermudians must be a priority for this Government. They must begin at home, within the walls of Government.

These Government departments must have the tools to match our workforce graduates, with some of the employment openings that come before Bermuda’s Immigration Board. They must make it happen. They must integrate their information technology systems, so that they are able to effectively share and use data that will be used to support our young people, and their employment endeavors.

This unemployment situation for our young people is grave, and may leave a blemish across their working lives, if there is no priority, or focused intervention by the PLP Government to address the increased challenge of increased youth unemployment.

- Cole Simons

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