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Skills transfer woe still a ‘sad reality’

The Bahamas must change “the sad reality” that key skills and knowledge are not being passed on to local workers by expatriate work permit holders, a prominent contractor argued yesterday.

Leonard Sands, the Bahamian Contractors Association’s (BCA) president, told Tribune Business this is “the component of the work permit” process where the country falls down as it results in the repeated importation of skilled expatriates because Bahamians have not been properly trained to full these posts.

Speaking after The Pointe’s supposed 70:30 construction workforce split in favour of Bahamians reared up again, he argued that better enforcement of such Heads of Agreement terms and a stronger partnership between the Government and local construction industry when negotiating such deals was needed.

Calling for more emphasis to be placed on skills and knowledge transfer to Bahamians, Mr Sands told this newspaper: “If every time you’re going to bring in skills from outside the country you’re never going to have the skills transfer. That’s the problem. That’s the component of the work permit process we lack doing development projects.

“If we want that skills transfer, we want a 19 year-old working with a 42 year-old to do that. Because we don’t do that, we have these great projects but no skills transfer. That’s the sad reality. We have to change that.” Knowledge transfer, or the lack of it, from skilled expatriate work permit holders to Bahamians has been a frequent issue across multiple sectors not just construction.

The Pointe’s construction in downtown Nassau, adjacent to the British Colonial resort, saw repeated concerns and criticisms that Bahamian contractors and workers were being denied income and opportunities by the project’s owner, China Construction America (CCA), and its preference for a Chinese-majority workforce despite the 70: 30 worker ratio in favour of locals that was agreed with the then-Christie administration.

Mr Sands said the Government frequently lacked the data to demonstrate to international developers that Bahamian contractors and workers possess most of the skills and capacity they are seeking because the industry is not consulted on, or involved in, Heads of Agreement negotiations when such terms are discussed.

“The point can always be taken that The Bahamas, as a developing nation, does not have a skilled workforce that could deliver projects of the same scale that international companies are used to,” the BCA president said. “That can always be argued. However, I believe that when you look at what we’ve actually developed that stance turns out not to be true.”

Mr Sands said the construction workforces employed on the Gold Wynn condo project at Goodman’s Bay, as well as One Cable Beach and Sandals Royal Bahamian’s recent upgrades, were between 90-95 percent Bahamian. “The challenge is they [developers] ask the Government to demonstrate the skills capacity within the industry,” he added.

“That’s what our failing is. The Government doesn’t have the data to support the argument we have the skills capacity to build these projects. If ever the Government gives the BCA an opportunity to advise on how to properly negotiate that part of the Heads of Agreement, that will yield a better result and outcome.”

The BCA chief also said greater enforcement by the Department of Labour is required in ensuring projects live up to their Bahamian worker ratio obligations otherwise “the developer can do whatever they want to do.

“One part of the argument is the Government does not have enough information to negotiate a different kind of agreement, and the Government should have done a better job with the Department of Labour of enforcing the Heads of Agreement,” he added.

The issue of how many Bahamian contractors and construction workers were employed at The Pointe, a $200m development now featuring the Margaritaville resort, condo hotel, parking lot, retail, office and other amenities, was a long-running controversy amid work that largely took place under the Minnis administration.

Numerous calls were made for the Department of Labour to investigate whether CCA was breaching the project Heads of Agreement, and denying contractors and their employees much-needed income. CCA was so insistent on a majority Chinese workforce that it threatened to “downsize” The Pointe project unless it got its way.

This was triggered by a May 13, 2015, e-mail from Sir Baltron Bethel, Prime Minister Perry Christie’s senior policy adviser, to Daniel Liu, CCA Bahamas senior vice-president, which said: “I refer to your May 7 e-mail and your suggested language relating to the 70:30 ratio of Bahamian to non-Bahamian labour. This ratio applies only to persons employed in construction.”

He then proposed altering the draft Heads of Agreement text to reflect this, amending a version that stipulated the same 70:30 ratio in favour of Bahamian workers was also to apply to operations staff and management. Sir Baltron’s version confirmed that Bahamian sub-contractors “will perform at least 40 percent of the construction work”, and be included as part of the 70:30 split.

Yet Mr Christie’s senior policy adviser crossed out language that included operations and management staff in this ratio. This provoked fury from Mr Liu and CCA, with the former writing: “It’s impossible for us to employ 70 percent Bahamian construction workers on the project because that only leaves 30 percent left as Chinese construction workers.

“If we have 400 Chinese workers that means we’d have to employ over 900 Bahamians. Then employ a further 500 permanent staff to run the hotel. For a start we won’t need 1,300 people to build this project and, second, why are the permanent staff being excluded or described differently from construction workers........ Jobs are jobs, right?”

CCA argued that “the super structure and shell and base build, large MEP (mechanical, engineering and plumbing” were construction skills “most Bahamians do not possess”, indicating that the fit-out of The Pointe’s retail stores was more appropriate for locals.

Mr Liu justified the contractor’s stance by pointing to American and Mexican workers engaged on Baha Mar’s multi-storey car park and Atlantis’ MEP works, respectively, and added: “I think there is a misunderstanding at Cabinet level as to what’s possible on our project re: labour and also what’s available in the local work pool.”

Comments

ThisIsOurs 1 year, 5 months ago

So it's highly unlikely that someone will work themselves out of a job. Possible but not highly probable.

These guys want to stay in the Bahamas, who can blame them? Beaucoup dollars in paradise and treated like a king wherever you go? I know someone who rode it out for 20 years strategically not transfering skills. So after 50 years, what are you gonna do, continue the same non working approach?

Instead of complaining about the man who looking after his interests, why not hire a man whose only job on the project IS to transfer skills? Pick 3 master crafts and 5 people to learn each. Just guessing numbers, you know the industry, you fix it.

He shadows the master craftsman, he has a list of skills to transfer and his compensation is based on whether workers can demonstrate that they have learned the skill. And you have to work out what that realistically means beforehand. Workers in the program must have exhibited mastery of a minimum set of skills for each target skill they're enlisted for. He cannot get an extended work permit or residency after the project. And no funny business inflating numbers and costs, you'll be shooting yourself in the foot and scuttling the objective.

Yes it will be more costly initially, but in the end you actually have skills transferred as opposed to this "other".

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 5 months ago

"Workers in the program must have exhibited mastery of a minimum set of skills for each target skill they're enlisted for"

Meaning dont waste the Master's time, the candidates must be highly skilled at specific tasks to be eligible to learn the master skill

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 5 months ago

Also if you're the Bahamian contractor on the project, your obligation as part of your final payment is to submit to the govt the highly technical skills completed and the name of the Bahamain who completed the work. The workers should have access to this report to ensure they're not excluded if they did work. And again the eligible skills for this reporting are selected BEFOREHAND you dont need to report someone who put up a door unless it's a verry unique door requiring extraordinary skill. This info could be put in something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet. And again no faking data, it will hurt you in the end bolstering the foreign contractors argument for their people

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DiverBelow 1 year, 5 months ago

Ever hear of "Apprentices Programs"? Practiced in some form in 90% of countries. Sponsored by various union & trade organizations with government participation. Starting at middle schools, "Shop classes" where introductory to what skills could be possible & interesting. There is a difference between Knowledge & Skill, DYI from Home Depot is knowledge, Fine Tuning that knowledge developed into a Skill, Mastering that Skill becomes a True Craftsman.

Why should the developer not import skilled personnel if such is not readily available to meet their standards? Sounds like a certification process is required. Are the infamous Unions &Trade Organizations willing to Ivest in such Education? Or just continue to collect dues & membership fees to pay executive/administrative salaries. Not a new problem...Complaining without solution is merely Cheap Hot Air.

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 5 months ago

I think what theyre complaining about is a malfunctioning apprenticeship program, i.e., working along with a master craftsman who is being paid to complete work on the project.

The difference in what Ive suggested is the master craftsman is being paid to "train", not complete work. The trainees at the end or some other interval have to demonstrate theyve acquired the skills for the master craftsman to be fully paid

I think theyre talking about the people at the top of the skills list as opposed to high schoolers who are learning entry to mid level skills

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