BVI News

The mighty vocations

A workforce that possesses appropriate technical and vocational skills is critical for the Virgin Islands economy, and the welfare of the country’s youth It is a fact that the former UK colonies and Overseas Territories of the UK, owing to colonialism, culture, and history, have been overwhelmingly oriented towards the academics in learning.

The stress is on a theoretical, white-collar oriented, education model. The theory is perceived to be superior to practice. White-collar is better than blue-collar.

Society views the lawyer and office worker as socially more valuable than the carpenter and mason. The scientist is revered, the maritime technician, or electrician, not so much.

Families living in the former colonies value a medical doctor, son or daughter, over a child who trains to become a plumber or builder. This is a gross misconception, even deception, in work and career preference.

Believing the academics are superior to the vocations is a national ‘inferiority complex’ that is a great hindrance to developing a sustainable and resilient economy, especially in the British Commonwealth.

For example, the stress on developing a theoretical education model, over placing resources into developing the vocations, is at the root of economic underdevelopment in much of Sub Saharan Africa.

The lack of a vocationally trained and skilled workforce stifles productivity and drives unemployment. This belief that the academics are superior to the vocations is a derivative of the old UK colonial education model, where Harrow, Eton, Sandhurst, Oxford and Cambridge churned out a ruling class that governed an empire that at its height was even greater than the Roman Empire in landmass.

That theoretical education model is an anachronism. The overwhelming orientation towards the academics in learning is an idiosyncrasy that takes the oxygen away from vocational education, in a world that demands skill sets in science, technology, engineering and math, subjects that depend on the vocations to deliver sustainability, productivity and innovation to the market economy, and society.

That misplaced belief that the lawyer is superior to the hairdresser and chef, is one reason a country like the Virgin Islands finds itself dependent upon alien labour, while Virgin Islands youth walk the streets looking for white-collar employment, or migrate to the USA and UK where the experience of racial prejudice is a sad reality.

In the West African nation of Nigeria, that deception, that the academics are superior to the vocations – the learning of hands-on skills – is at the root of an education model that has failed the Nigerian economy and society. In Nigeria, post-independence, overdue stress on a white-collar university education has been to the country’s detriment. The acquisition of crucial vocational skills is lacking in Nigeria.

In fact it is not a stretch stating that the average Nigerian family would be ashamed if their child decided they wanted to learn plumbing, instead of engineering. But, vocational skills are very much needed to take the Nigerian economy to self- sufficiency, resiliency, and sustainability. But these skills are lacking in the job market owing to a false idea that a university education is superior to learning a skill at a centre of vocational excellence.

That Nigerian flawed education model is represented throughout the postcolonial Commonwealth. Countries such as Germany and Japan, with highly skilled labour forces, raise their economic productivity, driving greater GDP, and a higher standard of living.

For the Virgin Islands, an economy that will increasingly rely on ecotourism, food sufficiency, and an internal market dynamic, to drive economic and social development, the future employment of Virgin Islands youth will be in the vocations, over and above white-collar work in financial services, which in spite of it’s overwhelming contribution to the GDP, remains fragile, with an unpredictable future.

The vocations promise Virgin Islanders full employment and a prosperous future, if only the learning culture can see beyond the desktop, and air-condition office.

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  1. Dr Kiernander says:

    This article is absolutely spot on.

    Having recently moved from the UK there are massive numbers of university graduates who are burdened with huge debts who cannot find employment or work in fields were their degrees are meaningless.

    Train in an area that you enjoy working in.

    Be proud of your chosen profession and do the best job possible. Customers will appreciate it, society will be better and you will live a happy life.

  2. Mike says:

    Absolutely correct in Canada we produce more lawyers than skilled trades people and it hurts the economy

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  4. E. Leonard says:

    Indeed, the education model in Anglophone countries where academics took precedence over vocations was/is flawed. Peeking backwards, the society was primarily agrarian. Our parents wanted us to do things different from what they did. As such, they directed us to put on a tie, business attire…..etc and venture into town to find an administrative job. They were well intentioned in their quest for us to cop an administrative job. In time, working outdoors with one’s hand was stigmatized. Consequently, today there is dearth of locals in vocation.

    Moreover, being a medical doctor, engineer, lawyer, architect….etc is worthwhile profession. However, being a plumber, electrician, carpenter, auto-mechanic, air condition technician, mason……etc is also a worthwhile profession that pays well. A strong push is needed to attract/recruit locals into vocation.

    Further, the transition from agricultural subsistence to services starting in the mid 60s created a myriad of new jobs and new job skills. There was a local shortage for the new jobs, requiring labour to be imported. Decades later there is still a shortage and labour is still being imported at a high level. A serious relook at the education model is urgently needed.

    Like 14
  5. Sense says:

    I don’t always agree with many of your opinions and commentaries, but you are absolutely spot on with this piece.

    Many countries are actually struggling right now because their social attitudes and education systems have favored professional careers and academic qualifications over the vocations.

    Everybody can play an EQUAL role in society and building a healthy, thriving community – be they a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a farmer, an engineer or plumber. We all need each other equally.

  6. Teacher says:

    So true Mr. Igwe.

  7. Change Agent says:

    This is absolutely spot on. It would require a significant change in the mindset of the community to turn the tide. That would also require a radical approach to schooling and the education system. My greatest fear is that the change is needed as of yesterday but the mindset is deep and it will take years to reach that realization.

  8. Thinking says:

    Absolutely nothing wrong with the vocational trades. Plenty of people I know have made bank as tradesmen. That said, there is a place fr university graduates (we need doctors, scientists, researchers etc). They are not mutually exclusive, and there is a symbiotic balance to be had. Now, given the suggestion that there is a future in vocations, why are we not doing more about providing vocational training? And, why are we not teaching business management skills as part of the process? Vocational knowledge alone does not suffice. One needs to learn how to be a business person to succeed particularly in a competitive environment, which it would become if there was an oversupply of skilled vocations.

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