By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
IN keeping with the government's vision to develop a technology hub in Grand Bahama, some 175 students participated in a six-week skills development programme at Bahamas Technology and Vocational Institute to prepare them for opportunities in the technology industry.
Minister of State for Grand Bahama Senator Kwasi Thompson attended the closing out ceremony at the Pelican Bay Resort on Thursday, commending participants for completing the first phase of the programme.
He said the government's Grand Bahama tech hub initiative is making progress, and revealed that a significant number of applications from investors wanting to start businesses had been processed and approved in 30 days.
"It is real, and today you are here because of the initiative," he told participants and parents at the ceremony.
Mr Thompson said that the establishment of a technology sector would not only provide direct jobs, but also create a spin-off effect in other industries.
The information communication technology (ICT) programme is being offered through BTVI for three consecutive summers.
Mr Thompson said this first group of participants has embarked on a "unique journey" that will prepare them for the opportunities that are to come.
"You should be very proud," he said. "The benefit of this experience is two-fold: Not only will you have the opportunity to receive training and earn ICT certification free of charge for three consecutive summers, but you are receiving a stipend after each of your six-week sessions over the next three summers.
"We believe that this initiative will make a significant impact on our economy," he said.
In addition to direct jobs, he believes that a Grand Bahama technology sector will create a spin-off effect in the real estate, tourism, retail, restaurants, and transportation industries.
Earlier this year, tech company GIBC, which has hired 30 persons, opened its doors in Freeport. Another company, Itelbpo is expected to hire 100 Grand Bahamians between August and January 2019.
The minister reported that progress has been made processing applications from investors to open businesses on the island, and added that a significant number of applications had been processed and approved in 30 days.
He also said that since the government's decision to make tuition free at BTVI, enrolment has almost doubled in Grand Bahama.
The minister stated that the institution is preparing a six-month tech programme which will provide participants with skills to begin a tech career.
He also announced the government is planning to hold the 2nd Grand Bahama Technology Summit on November 14-16 at the Grand Lucayan. He noted that international tech company Dell has agreed to participate in this year's summit.
Bob Robertson, president of BTVI, said that the ICT programme has been very successful and has also sparked interest from other schools in the US, Canada, and the Caribbean.
He said BTVI is training students who will be job-ready when they finish the programme.
The BTVI president said their success rate with graduation is almost 100 percent. He noted that students can take their credits earned and transfer them into US and Canadian schools with which they have agreements.
"When they finish this programme, they only need to finish one additional year and get a bachelor's degree," Mr Roberts said, adding that there is a lot of demand for ICT certified persons in Canada, the US, and elsewhere.
"I am surprised at how many other schools have reached out and contacted us and say, 'wow this is a really good programme, we want to find how you did it and why it is so successful.' We have only been doing it for about eight weeks, and the word has been getting around that this is really a game changer, and other schools in the Caribbean, the US, and Canada have called us about it and say they want to do something exactly like that."
Said Mr Robertson: "The government and the prime minister get a lot of credit for putting this together."