CURRICULUM reform in the school system should be the first step in tackling this nation’s ‘skills gap’, a veteran educator arguing that the education system must shift to a model that requires all students to meet a certain standard before they can obtain a high school diploma.
Dr Edward Bethel, who was one of several panelists at a Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) forum assessing the country’s workforce problems, and how to eliminate them, said schools must provide the foundation for persons to enter the labour market.
He added that according to a recent labour report, 92 per cent of the country’s workforce meets the minimum standard of education required by employers, but the level of service as well as skills and competency remains far below what is required.
“The first thing you need is curriculum reform. We need to move from the current system to a competency-based education system where everyone is required to meet a certain standard before they can get that high school diploma,” Dr Bethel said.
“We need to build our curriculum around teaching our students decision-making skills. That will involve a whole variety of things including critical thinking, better risk analysis skills, and instead of learning precalculus and linear algebra in math, let’s teach them statistics and probability so they can understand that they have a better chance at economic survival if they put a certain amount of their salary away over five years rather than playing numbers.”
Dr Bethel, whose career in education spans 25 years at both the secondary and tertiary level, added: “We need to change the way our students learn. We are teaching our kids to look to the teacher for the answer, and if they don’t have the answer you are on your own.
“They bring that sense of autonomy to the workplace and are unable to move beyond the skills that they have learned to begin with. We need to raise standards, that is obvious.
“If 92 per cent of the workforce is meeting the educational standards of their employers and are not able to get the job done, then those standards need to be raised.”
Dr Bethel added that there are employees who do have skills that are necessary in the workplace and are performing at a high level.
Wellington Hepburn, a Board member and director of marketing and communications for the Bahamas Human Resources Association, said educators must partner with the private sector to understand the demands of the labour market.
“In a 10-year time period the labour market, in terms of employable individuals, has increased by roughly 14 per cent. That’s from 2004 to 2014,” Mr Hepburn said.
“What that translates to is roughly an increase of 25,000 individuals that are considered to be employable in the Bahamas. That’s an increase from 176,000 individuals to slightly over 200,000 individuals.
“A 2012 wage and productivity report, which was done by the Government and was analysed by the IDB, found that 66 per cent of Bahamian employers noted that it has become even more difficult to find individuals or suitable talent to fill organisational positions.”
The IDB’s ‘Analysis of the Bahamas: 2012 Wages and Productivity’ survey noted that 66 per cent - two-thirds - of Bahamian employers were seeking recruits with job-specific skills.
It 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.”