By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Skills shortages among high school leavers have resulted in the Bahamas having “a pretty old workforce” with an average age of 40, a private sector executive yesterday warning there was “no easy fix” to this nation’s labour problems.
Winston Rolle, now back running his own IT-related business after finishing his stint as the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) chief executive, told Tribune Business that the absence of “soft skills” among high school graduates was acting as a barrier to their entering the workforce.
And, with the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) ‘Analysis of the Bahamas’ 2012 Wages and Productivity’ survey noting that 66 per cent - two-thirds - of Bahamian employers were seeking recruits with job-specific skills, Mr Rolle said an immediate ‘gap’ between labour supply and demand was being created.
“That report shows we have a lot to do as it relates to career development and training,” Mr Rolle said. “If you have an average age of 40 years-old in the workforce, that’s a pretty old workforce. That’s what we have.
“Now we can see why the young people are the ones most disenfranchised when it comes to the workforce. One the one hand, you have employers focused on persons coming into the job with the required skills, but the school system is graduating leavers and not necessarily graduates. We definitely have a gap there.”
Mr Rolle told Tribune Business that despite seeking persons with the right skills for the job, Bahamian employers were all too-often having to invest in training persons in “soft skills”.
“That person can’t hit the ground running and do the job from the outset,” he added.
This was borne out by the findings in the IDB report, obtained by Tribune Business, which found employers reporting “that employees most needed training in improving productivity, sales and marketing and soft skills like motivation, teamwork and responsibility”.
The former BCCEC chief executive agreed that there was “no easy fix” to the Bahamas’ workforce and productivity issues, with the problem demanding a multi-faceted solution involving the Government, private sector, education reform and a total transformation of Bahamian society’s values as they relate to education.
“When we talk about the challenges we have in education, it’s a long, uphill battle that needs to be fought, and in many instances the only solution is to turn the system upside down on its head and make drastic changes,” Mr Rolle told Tribune Business.
“Unfortunately, most politicians are not willing to do that.”
As previously reported by Tribune Business, the IDB report’s survey findings highlight the other side of the Immigration/work permit debate, providing an insight into why the latter have to be issued across all spectrums of the job market.
The IDB report stated bluntly that one of its “main messages” was: “Employers in the Bahamas encounter difficulties in recruiting the right skills for the job from the labour force.
“Additionally, as large, new investments in the country generate increasing manpower needs, finding a response to the skills shortage is becoming even more important.”
The IDB study described “the existence of high unemployment (particularly for workers with lower education levels and youth)” and “a skills gap between labour demand and supply” as “two critical issues” facing the Bahamas.
It added that unemployment among Bahamians aged 25 years-old or less had “tripled during the 2000s”, something partly attributable to the recession but also, more than likely, to skills shortages and attitudes to the workplace.
“A key conclusion from the survey is that investment in skills development of the current and future labour force can be the main driver of economic and social growth in the Bahamas,” the IDB report said.
“The survey demonstrates that upgrading both technical and soft skills is key to increasing productivity and competitiveness, adaptation to new technologies, and creating stable work opportunities for Bahamian workers.
“Improving the alignment of skills to employers’ demands can have multiple benefits in terms of employability, productivity and competition, while preventing Bahamian youth from falling into a skills gap trap.”