THE Government’s first-ever use of blockchain technology will tackle what was yesterday branded “an enormous waste of human capital”.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), unveiling a $200,000 ‘technical co-operation’ project, revealed that the Minnis administration plans to deploy the technology as a way to determine the success of an apprenticeship programme targeted at 1,350 Bahamians aged between 16-40 years-old, and who are either unemployed or school leavers.
Documents obtained by Tribune Business reveal that the Government is also looking to blockchain to combat the widespread problem of lost/missing student records and certifications, which the IDB described as a major constraint to developing a skilled, productive Bahamian workforce.
“Currently, the certification process in the Bahamas lacks technological advances,” the IDB report said. “Today, student records management is a lengthy and cumbersome process. Students do not own their own records of achievement, depending on issuing institutions to verify their achievements throughout their lives.
“This results not only in a verification process that can last weeks or months, and involves hours of human labour and (fallible) judgment, but also creates inefficiencies in placing new students and processing transfer equivalencies.
“In extreme cases, when the issuing institution goes out of business, loses their records or is destroyed due to natural disasters, students have no way of verifying their achievements and must often start from nothing. This results in an enormous waste of human capital.”
The IDB report said the Bahamas was now “in a singular position to highlight the value of blockchain-based digital records for both students and institutions”, with the technology seen as a mechanism for Bahamians to possess and share records of their educational achievements.
Blockchain technology allows information to be recorded, shared and updated by a particular community, with each member maintaining their own copy of data that has to be verified collectively.
Anything that can be described in digital form, such as contracts, transactions and assets, could thus be suitable for blockchain solutions. And Blockcerts, the open-standard for creating, issuing and verifying blockchain-based certificates, ensures they are tamper-proof.
“Not only does the Blockcerts standard (open standard for digital documents anchored to the blockchain) allow Bahamian institutions to prevent records fraud, safeguarding and building confidence in their brands, but it allows them to leapfrog the digitisation process, skipping many of the interoperability issues associated with legacy digital formats (i.e. PDF, XML),” the IDB report said.
“Blockcerts provides students with autonomy, privacy, security and greater access all over the world, while allowing the Bahamian government to consolidate and streamline its credentialing operations in a way that produces real return on investment over a period. Primary use cases include: Student diplomas, professional certifications, awards, transcripts, enrollment verification, employment verification, verifications of qualifications, credit equivalencies and more.”
The Government has recently latched on to blockchain technology as part of its efforts to develop a so-called ‘technology hub’ in Grand Bahama, while also suggesting it could provide the solution for poor, paper-based record-keeping that is prevalent throughout ministries and departments.
The creation of a Land Registry, and system of registered land, is one initiative that could be aided by blockchain. K P Turnquest, Deputy Prime Minister, even suggested earlier this year that the technology could have helped prevent the Jean Rony Jean-Charles matter through the maintenance of comprehensive, easily accessible birth and Immigration records.
The IDB paper, though, said blockchain’s use in this project will be restricted to evaluating the success and sustainability of the Government’s apprenticeship initiative, and issuing “industry recognised” e-Certificates for those who graduate from it.
Revealing that the programme could become a ‘model’ for the Latin American and Caribbean region, the IDB paper said: “More evidence on apprenticeships’ effectiveness is needed for supporting the implementation and continuity of these programmes in [the region] and the Bahamas.
“Better technology and optimised certification processes are needed. Blockchain technology is ideal as a new infrastructure to secure, share, and verify learning achievements... Digital certificates, which are secured on a blockchain, hold significant advantages over ‘regular’ digital certificates in that they cannot be forged.”
The IDB-financed apprenticeship initiative is designed to improve the Bahamian workforce’s skills and productivity, and is targeted at three sectors - medical services, maritime and IT/telecommunications.
Some 1,100 Bahamians will undergo a job readiness Pre-Apprenticeship programme through the National Training Agency (NTA), focused on technical and soft skills. Those that qualify will then proceed to the full apprenticeship initiative, which will provide 80 per cent ‘on-the-job’ training to some 1,350 persons.
“Human capital shortages impose challenges to productivity in the Bahamas,” the IDB said. “Although the enrollment rate in primary education in the Bahamas is almost universal (97.5 per cent), enrollment rate in secondary education considerably reduces to 82.7 per cent.
“Additionally, according to the World Bank’s Enterprise Survey, employers report the lack of specific skills as the most important barrier to recruit workers (34 per cent), followed by applicants’ lack of experience (29 per cent) and applicants’ lack of soft skills (28 per cent).
“Skills gaps are also perceived by 24 per cent of firms as a main barrier to productivity, while problems with soft skills are the main cause of dismissals and turnover in firms.”