0

Unfit To Hire: Aid Boss Says Lack Of English And Maths Is Harming Job Applicants

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A major Bahamian retailer says “the biggest obstacle” to its expansion is the lack of “basic Maths and English” skills among potential recruits as it aims to build a 200-strong workforce by June.

Jason Watson, Automotive Industrial Distributors (AID) president, told Tribune Business that many prospective hires are “unable to function in our environment” because they were scoring poorly on the simple entry test they were asked to complete.

Acknowledging that AID is far from the only employer affected by these struggles, he added that finding the right staff to expand the company’s workforce by up to 50 persons compared to pre-COVID-19 levels was critical to ensuring its $8.2m investment in new stores delivers the targeted returns.

“The biggest problem we really have is finding persons that are suitable,” Mr Watson told this newspaper. “A lot of times, when we bring them in to be tested, the test scores may be too low so it’s difficult to hire those persons.

“It’s a big, big problem for us and everyone else. The level of education is a big obstacle right now. We have a lot of young people we’d like to hire, and the test we give is not too difficult, but if they don’t get a certain score we’re not able to hire them as they don’t have the basic maths and English to be able to function in our environment.

“That’s the biggest challenge. A lot of people are sending in resumes, there’s a lot of interest, but when we test them we find they’re not suitable.” Nevertheless, Mr Watson said AID has been hiring “constantly” and almost on a weekly basis, with three new recruits taken on board last week and a further four hired the week before.

AID is aiming to re-open its reconstructed Blue Hill Road location by June, with the store requiring a 35-40 strong staff when “fully up and running”. With its new Harbour Bay site requiring ten employees, Mr Watson said the required hiring “will take us over 200” workers by mid-2021.

“We were around 160 a few months ago, and have been adding. We should be between 200 and 210 staff members by June,” he added. Many other Bahamian employers, though, will recognise Mr Watson’s concerns about the quality and skills levels of potential hires being produced by the country’s education system.

Little has changed since the early 2000s, when the private sector-driven Coalition for Education Reform first exposed the potential economic and social crisis that was building up due to the persistent ‘D-’ average BGCSE exam score that has remained constant over the subsequent 15 years.

That average grade does not include the many students who cannot qualify to sit the BGCSE exams, instead departing high school with merely a ‘leaving certificate’. As a result, companies of all sizes and across all industries are unable to locate workers with the competencies and skills they require, including basic English and Maths as well as “soft skills” such as the ability to handle customers.

This, in turn, results in reduced productivity that impairs the competitiveness of companies and the wider Bahamian economy, producing increased costs and inefficiencies that threaten the ability to rebound swiftly following COVID-19.

The $8.m investment by AID, one of the few Bahamian retailers and companies that remains in growth mode amid the pandemic’s devastation, includes a new store in Dorian-devastated Abaco as well as the Blue Hill Road location.

However, Mr Watson described the Abaco location as “stalling right now”, with the retailer unhappy that the building’s shell is allowing both water and light in. “They have the sides and rood on, and I met last week with the architect to make some adjustments to the interior,” he added.

“Right now the shell is not complete. There’s light coming in, water coming in. We’re not happy at the moment with the shell of the building. But we’re definitely moving forward with it, and it should be a nice building when completed.”

Depending on when AID’s general contractor begins work, Mr Watson said the Abaco store will take “at least another six months to get done”, pushing its likely opening back until September 2021 or later in the fall season.

“Everything there is moving so slowly because you have to import everything,” he added of Abaco in Dorian’s aftermath. “There’s still a lot of issues with electricity, housing. A lot of things we may take for granted, everything takes much longer there. Workers, equipment are not in great enough supply in Marsh Harbour.”

AID’s Abaco store will require an extra 20-30 staff when it opens, taking the company’s workforce close to the 240 mark by fall 2021. However, Dorian’s lingering effects will present a recruitment problem of a different kind.

“I don’t know if there are enough people available there,” Mr Watson said. “I’m trying to get over there soon and get a feel for the environment there. All our staff that were there pre-storm, most of them are now here.....”

The AID chief, revealing that sales are down “maybe 15-20 percent on a monthly basis” compared to 2020 comparatives that were pre-COVID, said the retailer’s performance was “not bad considering the circumstances”.

He disclosed, however, that he was bracing for severe supply chain disruption in the short-term due to a shortage of shipping containers in China. This, Mr Watson said, is now impacting other markets including the ability of US manufacturers to ship their goods to The Bahamas.

Referring to AID’s newly-opened Harbour Bay store, he said: “A lot of items that we wanted to put in we do not have in stock, and a lot of suppliers are having an issue with their stock because of a huge shipping container shortage.

“I’ve had tyres sitting in China that were supposed to have been shipped from December, but can’t get any containers to ship them. Our US suppliers are also having that issue; they have goods to ship but no containers available to ship them.

“There’s a huge bottleneck in China that may not be alleviated until April, May,” Mr Watson continued. “We’re going to get a good amount of goods in over the next few weeks, but we will have a shortage after that which will be worse than what we had prior to Christmas and the Christmas season.

“This is the longest wait to have goods shipped from China. It’s going to be pretty bad the next couple of months, and probably by June, July we should return to normal I guess.”

Comments

shonkai 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Then teach them yourself; hire them and teach them. Might get some more retention that way too.

0

KapunkleUp 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Having to teach your employees basic math and language skills might be asking a bit too much of employers.

3

tribanon 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Can't help but think how many times you must have supported either the PLP or FNM party.

0

KapunkleUp 7 months, 2 weeks ago

2022 candidates: FMN - John Jackson // PLP - Jack Johnson.

0

John 7 months, 2 weeks ago

And pay them $210.00 a week to teach them? You mad crazy!

1

Hoda 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Who else applying to work for 220 at aid. But, isn’t everything on the pc, or are they saying they applicants are borderline illiterate.

0

ohdrap4 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I have never seen a pc do any work by itself.

AID has got it wrong. They could find many displaced people with better education. Pay them 250 a week, and a bonus at the end of a 6 month contract.

However, AID is never accomodating to employees who want to attend college and get better.

Unlike Super Value who accomodates their schedule when they go to school.

1

Hoda 7 months, 2 weeks ago

My statement was only questioning the high level arithmetic that the prospective employees would be called to engage in. So i am wondering if they are intimating that applicants are borderline illiterate - that they can’t scan a item and read the price, or collect correct change, they can’t read the label number on a tire or car part? Which is possible. The fact is anyone with employable skills that can command a salary are likely not seeking to be employed as line staff - or whatever you call it - at aid. This is likely the fate of most ppl demanding severance from the hotel industry.

If the applicants are as deficient as suggested, college/university might be a leap. Every job requires training as far as soft skills go. however, am I missing something - they are saying the ppl can’t read and count. I would think if I am not the brightest bulb, AID might be a place I apply. So again what do they mean when they say the applicants are scoring to low on the test? Are they illiterate? What exactly are the job requirements - that might weed out the bunch?

0

avidreader 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Mention is made in this story of the Marsh Harbour AID store. However, there is no work being carried out on the ruins of that store at present. Perhaps the competition offered by the new Parts City store is a factor in this situation.

0

bahamianson 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Well, it is a loaded question,no? If you do not want to work for 220 , then qualify yourself for more. That requires sacrifice. Mr Watson sacrificed to get where he is, and othets should do the same. He doesn't owe anyone a job.He has a job available. Do you want it or not?

1

John 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Yet they in the media crying for government to raise minimum wage. You can’t read or write or do math, but you know $210 a week is too, ‘Lil bit.’ Improve your skills and don’t worry about minimum wage.

2

John 7 months, 2 weeks ago

The problem too is faced by the smaller stores and businesses. They may take on a person that is not qualified and train them or, at least give them work experience. And as soon as they learn to tie their shoes properly they go put in applications to higher paying jobs. No gratitude to the business that took the time to teach and/or train them. Well, you may say that is the nature of the beast, but realize also, that when government increases the minimum wage, these small businesses have to pay the unskilled or unqualified workers more and still have to teach and train them at the company’s expense.

2

Chucky 7 months, 2 weeks ago

If this article is quoting Jason Watson verbatim, then he him self is displaying very poor English!

1

John 7 months, 2 weeks ago

When we were in school, we were taught (or learnt) that there are at least two levels of English: One that you use everyday or informal, and two, formal English that is used at school, in the classroom, or when applying for a job, etc. And when you get caught in a situation you cannot express yourself clearly, you use the catch-phrase, 'you know wat I mean."

0

bahamianson 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I hear you chucky, but when you are sitting at the top of the tree, the mess won't hit you.

0

Economist 7 months, 2 weeks ago

People often suggest that the business should train the incoming employee (i.e. math and english). This is rediculous.

Firstly, businesses are not schools and should not be expected to be such.

Secondly, the businesses pay tax to the government, part of which is supposed to go the education system so that students learn math and english.

Thirdly, parents must take their share of the blame as they are clearly not taking their responsiblities seriously. Raising children is not easy and they require a considerable amount of parenting, including being forced to finish home work and having to review subjects, with their parents, before exams to insure that they know enough to pass the exam.

2

Clamshell 7 months, 2 weeks ago

You misspelled “ridiculous” ... 🤣🤣

2

GodSpeed 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Then raise the pay. I assure you if you put an ad in the paper/social media, that you're looking to hire people with basic Math and English skills and the pay is $20K a year (not minimum wage) then you will find your 50+ employees. Give them a test before hiring, problem solved. Also it would encourage others to improve their Math and English skills.

3

sheeprunner12 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Go ask the cheap Watson people ......... how much have you invested in assisting the schools in the areas around your stores OR the schools in Long Island, where you all are from????

They will stay real quiet ............... just like most of our wealthy business persons who are complaining that the ordinary children and their employees are dumb (but their kids go to to "good schools") .......... It shows the class discrimination that these people display, even though they are two generations removed from family illiteracy themselves.

1

ohdrap4 7 months, 1 week ago

I said above. When they get an employee who is taking remedial classes or going to College, they offer no accomodation.

Some woul be glad to work for 210 if they can go to school.

I knew someone who left there because the next minimim wage allowed her to get to school by 6pm.

0

BONEFISH 7 months, 1 week ago

Education is not valued in this country. This is tourism based economy where you can make a very good living without being literate, numerate or without having basic technical skills. That was before COV-19.

An economy according to according to a person with a PHD which has benefited from two of it's neighbors being economic basket cases.

0

newcitizen 7 months, 1 week ago

A serious problem is pointed out about the level of education in this country and the vast majority of Tribune commenters take it as an opportunity to shoot the messenger. It is a problem for everyone in this country if there is a significant portion of the population that is unqualified for basic employment.

0

sheeprunner12 7 months, 1 week ago

Who controls the educational system in this country?????? .......... The politicians .......... and Watson knows this (vicariously) ......... and the indigenous business class in this country (generally) pay lip service to public education while their children have access to the best schooling .......... So, I am not sympathetic to Watson.

0

Sign in to comment