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.
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.