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'Serious Concerns' On Maximising Bahamian Jobs At Baha Mar

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

There are “serious concerns” that this nation will be unable to maximise Bahamian employment at Baha Mar and Grand Bahama’s Reef Village due to ‘skills gaps’ and a lack of qualified workers, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has warned.

Unveiling a $400,000 project aimed at ‘Advancing Skills and Employment in the Bahamas’, the IDB paper noted that 60 per cent of Bahamian companies had identified the absence of ‘soft skills’ or under-qualification as their “main difficulty in recruiting workers”.

Analysing the implications with two resort projects set to create at least 6,000 full-time local jobs (5,000 at Baha Mar, 1,000 for the Reef Village), the IDB study said: “New jobs expected to come online from two new hotel expansions have raised serious concerns that the Bahamas has neither the employment services, nor sufficient skills and training programmes, to ensure that the maximum number of these jobs are filled by Bahamian workers.

“The Bahamian economy is facing growing challenges to upgrade the skill levels of its workforce and match them to higher quality employment, particularly to meet growing demand in the tourism sector.”

Noting the high unemployment rates among young Bahamians (over 30 per cent) and the less educated segments of society, the IDB said this - and the national 14.7 per cent overall jobless rate - was co-existing “with a skills gap where the private sector is not able to find qualified workers in key skill areas”.

The IDB paper referred to the Bank’s ‘In Pursuit of Employable Skills: Understanding Employer’s Demands’ report, previously revealed by Tribune Business, which found that almost two-thirds of employee firings in the Bahamas stem from ‘behaviour problems’.

The report 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).”

And, when it came to recruitment difficulties, the report added: “In practice, when employers search among job applicants, the lack of skills is one of the main difficulties in recruiting.

“Overall, the most frequently-named difficulty was under-qualified applicants (34 per cent) followed by applicants’ lack of experience (29 per cent) and applicants’ lack of soft skills (28 per cent).”

Meanwhile, the latest IDB document said that with a technology framework dating to 2004, the Ministry of Labour’s Job Exchange Service and Skills Bank were “unable to serve well” the needs of foreign investors and Bahamian employers.

“The Ministry of Labour and National Insurance seeks to modernise and expand the current Bahamas Job Exchange Service so that it better supports the diverse employment needs of all the islands of the Bahamas, more systematically lists new and higher skilled employment in the tourism sector, and more efficiently serves the unemployed, who are required to register with the Job Exchange as a condition for receiving unemployment insurance,” the IDB document said.

It added, though, that the Ministry of Labour and National Insurance had “limited programme and policy experience in expanding active labour market policies”.

The Christie administration, though, has also called on the IDB project to help assess the performance of its newly-launched National Training Agency (NTA) via the creation of monitoring systems.

These will assess “both the training conducted and the performance of training providers to improve the efficiency and market responsiveness of the NTA to labour market demand.

“Proposed improvements for labour market information in the Bahamas would also support the market orientation of the new training institution”.

The IDB project will also facilitate exchanges with “best practice models” that could apply to the Bahamas.

These include the Human Capital Development Public-Private Partnership in Riviera Maya, Mexico; the Public-Private Partnership of the Honduras National Employment Service; and training, entrepreneurship and skills development in Trinidad and Tobago.

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