By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Government is concerned there are not enough trained persons to capitalise on the 8,000 jobs expected to be created in the next two years, when the $2.6 billion Baha Mar project is completed, the Minister of Education, Science and Technology Jerome Fitzgerald has said.
He promised that the Christie administration would work aggressively to create awareness of those employment opportunities and help to facilitate training.
Speaking at the closing workshop of the Bahamas Hotel Association's (BHA) ninth annual Summer Educators Internship Program, held at Nettie's Place at Casuarinas, Mr Fitzgerald said one of the key objectives he had set out as minister was to ensure that young Bahamians were able to understand and appreciate all the different careers that exist in the tourism sector.
"Part of the issue, I believe, is that many of our young people don't appreciate that there are over 1,000 careers in the tourism industry," he said.
"Part of my ministry's objective now is to not only make them aware of what these professions are, but also to work hand-in-hand with the BHA to make sure that we have the programmes in place to train our young people in regard to taking advantage of these jobs.
"We are extremely concerned in government that we have 8,000 new jobs coming up in another two years, and we don't have anywhere near the sufficient persons trained to take up those jobs. We are going to work aggressively to make sure that we identify those areas where we need persons, and begin to educate and communicate with the public - and particularly young people - what these opportunities are."
This year, about 140 Summer Educators participants, inclusive of educators, guidance counsellors and Ministry of Education subject specialists, learned about careers available in tourism.
Since 2004, more than 800 educators from throughout the Bahamas have taken a week out of their summer vacation to learn about the tourism industry, its many job and careers opportunities, and skills required to enter and succeed in the industry. The BHA's Annual Summer Educators Internship program is held in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology
"We want to see these types of collaborations replicated more often, where education is tailored to our students' interests and abilities," Mr Fitzgerald said.
"The time has come for us to become more realistic and practical with our limited education resources, and use them so that students leaving school will leave with the knowledge and certification to enter the job market.
"Several schools have established relationships with BTVI to facilitate skills training for our students. The Government envisages that these links will expand as we seek to introduce a system of required academic certification into the secondary school system. These courses will be made available after grade nine with parental consent.
Mr Fitzgerald said these classes are expected to lay the foundation for careers in trades and technology, which include basic instruction in areas such as land surveying, welding, road building, photography, electrical repair and installation, tiling, tailoring, upholstery and barbering.
"Once our students have acquired the initial knowledge about these fields at the high school level they will be better able to move on and enhance the opportunities that will be available for them at BTVI, to pursue advanced courses in all these electives and receive internationally-recognised certification," Mr Fitzgerald said.
The BHA's president, Stuart Bowe, said: "This summer educator internship is one of our core partnership activities with education. When we first started the programme nine years ago, we had anticipated some success but never expected that it would take on a life of its own.
"From it, new approaches to learning have surfaced. We've connected the dots between tourism and education with activities like the junior hotelier program, now reaching 1,500 students each year.
"A growing number of students are spending time in industry on weekends, breaks and summers in structured programmes which we support - the latest being over 60 juniors and seniors who are spending most of their summer in industry as part of the American Hotel and Lodging Association's certification programme."
Mr Bowe added: "We are at an important crossroads with tourism in the Bahamas. Tremendous opportunities are before us. In just under three years Baha Mar will be engaged in a mass recruitment exercise, and while our collaborative efforts have been good and have borne fruit, a lot of us need to raise the bar and challenge ourselves to work together even more so that Bahamians, particularly young Bahamians, are able to realise the opportunities which this project presents.
"The opportunities will be everywhere in the country but they will only be available to those who are prepared." This year's Summer Educators Internship Program was held from June 25-29 in New Providence, and will be held from August 20-24 in Grand Bahama.