By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
An MP has admitted there is “a sub-set of Bahamians” who are unemployable, due to the absence of job skills or being “scarred for life” by previous criminal convictions.
Emphasising that he was not speaking in his Cabinet position, Ryan Pinder, minister of financial services, conceded that he was confronted with this reality every day in his Elizabeth constituency.
Responding to a question at a Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) luncheon, Mr Pinder described his constituency as arguably the most diverse in this nation when it came to the economic backgrounds of residents.
Agreeing that the Bahamas had to be realistic, and “confront reality”, the Minister candidly conceded: “We have a sub-set of Bahamians who do not have the technical skills to be employable. I can tell you as an MP that is the case.”
While some in this “sub-set” lacked the necessary skills, and workplace ethic and attitude, Mr Pinder said others were hampered by previous criminal convictions. Unable to produce a clean police certificate, they were immediately rejected by Bahamian employers.
“I know of a strapping young man who can’t get a job because he was convicted years ago for forging bank cheques,” Mr Pinder said. “One error, and he’s scarred for life.”
Emphasising that he was not excusing or condoning such behaviour, Mr Pinder said the inability of young Bahamian men to get a job due to their past mistakes inevitably meant many - proud, yet unable to feed their families legitimately - turned to crime to do so.
This was exacerbated by the Bahamas’ clogged court system. Mr Pinder said many were “more willing to [turn to crime] as they know the justice system never runs its course in a timely fashion, and they will get out and be OK. They won’t turn to crime if they know the justice system works”.
The Minister’s comments illuminate the other side of the Immigration/work permit debate, namely that a significant (albeit a minority) section of Bahamian society is effectively planning itself out of their economy.
Entrepreneurial and employment opportunities are passing them by, and their lack of suitability for the workplace is another factor behind employers looking overseas to fill key positions.
An Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report recently revealed almost two-thirds of employee firings in the Bahamas stem from ‘behaviour problems’, finding that “the lack of skills” among workers is the main barrier to their hiring.
The report, ‘In Pursuit of Employable Skills: Understanding Employer’s Demands’, found that 62 per cent of the Bahamian companies it surveyed had either dismissed or seen employees resign in 2010-2011.
Noting that the ‘mean’, or average, was for companies to see five dismissals and three resignations, the IDB study added: “The most commonly cited reason for staff dismissals was ‘problems with behaviour’ (65 per cent).”
Mr Pinder told BCCEC members that the Bahamas had to “recognise reality and cause the proper technical development of our young people, particularly our young men”, to take place.
Apart from training, Mr Pinder said the solution also required economic growth. With 5,000 students graduating from high school every year, even assuming 50 per cent (probably a generous number) go on to tertiary education, the Bahamian workforce swells by at least 2,500-3,000 each summer.
Their numbers add to the existing 13.7 per cent unemployment rate, with 41,000 Bahamians either already jobless or not actively seeking work.
“They can only get jobs if the economy grows,” Mr Pinder said. “The economy has been stagnant for 10 years, and the population is growing every year.”
The Minister also called for improved mentorship of young Bahamians. He recalled a recent conversation with someone who had obtained an overseas posting with a bank, and her asking him how she could show the institution that she was “a woman of substance”.
“It tells you about the level of mentorship and bringing along young people in the country,” Mr Pinder said. “We need the buy-in of the entire community of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.”