BVI News

Road to El Dorado passes through apprenticeships and a stint in trade school

By Dickson Igwe, Contributor

The skills and vocations are the future of a socially and economically prosperous Virgin Islands — not simply academia Now this Old Boy met a very old friend on a street corner in the Virgin Islands on Wednesday.

The man is a political big wig in these parts and from a very prominent family of Virgin Gorda. As expected the talk was all politics. The Great Man stated that the country is missing it in terms of job opportunities for youth.

He stated that St Lucia and St Vincent all had trade schools, and were turning out some of the most technically skilled workers and tradesmen in the Caribbean.

This was a boon to their economies and job development. He further stated that the best place to find a good tradesman, whether it be for airconditioning, refrigeration, carpentry, roofing, masonry, and a host of skills and trades, was St Lucia, these days.

Lack of vocational skills damaging

He further asserted that the lack of vocational skills was damaging the country’s workforce. He sniggered at a number of aliens with “dubious” skill sets who came into the Virgin Islands to work after IRMA, to repair the country.

OK this Johnnie Walker has observed over the years that there is a reluctance of parents in the Virgin Islands — especially professional types — to let their kids go into the vocations and trades. The stress is on the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic.

This is a tragedy as far as this writer is concerned. It is certainly a gap in an economy that requires a skilled workforce to drive social prosperity. There are numerous children and youth – many actually quite bright academically – who prefer doing things with their hands. Academia for these kids is actually ‘torture’.

Frequently, these are the kids that give trouble in class. These are hands-on kids who beam with light when given a task such as sawing wood to make a bench; placing wire in insulation to link with an electricity hub that allows myriad plugs and outlets to exist; getting oily unscrewing a bolt on a car or motorbike engine; placing block after block when building a wall; climbing a ladder to pull galvanize to build a roof; or simply chopping onions in a kitchen managed by a very particular and bossy chef.

Working outdoors

There is great satisfaction working the outdoors in a tropical climate: repairing and maintaining boats, learning the trade from a building contractor; learning how to handle earth movers; ambling in the hot sun bush-whacking, gardening and landscaping.

From doing beauty work in a salon offering pedicures and manicures; to operating a printing machine for a variety of tasks, the list of the vocations is endless. The vocations are the foundation for an economy that will be driven by skill sets that drive job growth, Gross Domestic Product, and economic productivity.

And the vocations pay well, within the context of the Virgin Islands economy. On these islands, a good plumber, carpenter, and builder is worth their ‘weight in gold’.

Skilled worker vs office worker

And the skilled worker has a job for life, unlike the office worker who is frequently dependent on the whims and caprices of aliens in foreign capitals with no emotional attachment to these Virgin Islands, and who will move assets elsewhere at the click of a mouse.

Virgin Islands leaders must focus on the vocations as part of a vision of the future that leads to El Dorado. All over the world business leaders are waking up to the fact that there is a great need for technically skilled and vocational workers.

Economic productivity depends on the quality of technical skills possessed by a country’s population. The time is ripe for the establishment of an independent trade school built by both the public and private sector, with the country’s leading technical men and women on the board of governors, and the core of a Virgin Islands apprenticeship program, that will drive jobs and economic growth in the future.

In fact, this Old Boy will go as far as stating that all students in the Virgin Islands must do one vocational skill to full competency as part of their learning, and preparation for the world of work, as is done in a number of Caribbean countries.

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9 Comments

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  1. Offspring says:

    You can offer all the opportunities in the world but your offspring do not want to work. They prefer to race around on the scooters that mama bought them, hang under a tree and make the occasional drug deal. You can’t blame them. Its in the gene pool.

    Like 15
    Dislike 6
  2. E. Leonard says:

    Great article the points of which parents, private sector and government should actively embraced. There is a dearth of local craftsmen/women in the VI/BVI; this dearth is not by accident. Before and after Emancipation, the VI was an agrarian society. Then in the mid to late 60s the transition to a service-based economy started to take root; now tourism and financial services are the twin pillars of the economy. Moreover, up to approximately to late 50s, young boys worked with(apprenticeship) experienced and seasoned carpenters, shipwrights, masons, woodworkers……etc to learn a trade; young girls paired up seamstresses.

    Further, up and down the Caribbean a trend started ( at least in the eastern Caribbean) to emerge where we’ll-intentioned parents encouraged their children to put on a proverbial tie and fan out in the capital cities/towns to find a government job. Our parents saw getting a job in a government office or some other office as way to getting far away from agriculture (working ground). Then some how a generation of Virgin Islanders were erroneously convinced that there was a stigma to working outdoors with one’s hand. They wrongly viewed vocation training as an option for under-performers.

    Moreover, the transition to a service economy created many new jobs, job skills and job opportunities, ie, plumbers, carpenters, masons, electricians, air condition technicians, IT techs, draftsmen, survey techs, auto mechanics, diesel mechanics, boat captains, nurses, teachers, lab techs…….etc. This demand highlighted severe skill shortages and labour had to be imported and still has to be imported. Nevertheless, craft skills were viewed as the province of others. Today, most locals are concentrated in government and in other office settings.

    Locals are missing out on good paying jobs by focusing mainly on administrative jobs. As Dickson noted:”And the vocations pay well, within the context of the Virgin Islands economy. On these islands, a good plumber, carpenter, and builder is worth their ‘’weight in gold.’’ And the skilled worker has a job for life, unlike the office worker who is frequently dependent on the whims and caprices of aliens in foreign capitals with no emotional attachment to these Virgin Islands, and who will move assets elsewhere at the click of a mouse.”

    After the September 2017 hurricanes (Maria and Irma), the dearth of local construction craftsmen/women was clear. An initiative was launched to quickly trained locals in construction skills. However, becoming a journey or master in construction skills take time. A comprehensive programme on vocation needs to launched/relaunched.

    Like 14
    • Concerned VIander says:

      There are a litany of truths and falsehoods in this supportive Blog of Igwe’s commentary.
      1. ”Then some how a generation of Virgin Islanders were erroneously convinced that there was a stigma to working outdoors with one’s hand.” This is a wrong-headed and costly belief.

      2.” They wrongly viewed vocation training as an option for under-performers.” Another wrong-headed belief.

      3.” Nevertheless, craft skills were viewed as the province of others.” Yet another wrong-headed belief. No, construction and other hands-on skills are not the province of either St. Lucians, Vincentians, Guyanese, Jamaicans, Antiguans, Nevisans, Phillopinos…..etc.

      Virgin Islanders/Belongers sit on the sidelines and opined about lack of opportunity while labour has to be imported for good paying jobs. WTF! We are lagging in the preparations for these jobs. Are we just lazy or feel entitled? Except for a rare few jobs Virgin Islanders should be doing most jobs in the VI. Another reason to import jobs is for temporary surge, and genuine shortages in some skills. Common man, let’s get at it and stop the belly aching.

      Like 3
      Dislike 1
  3. Local says:

    We are too f**king entitled that’s all. Chickens coming home to roost, look at the place. Now nobody has a choice, you don’t work, you don’t eat, simple.

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