Bahamas at ‘critical point’ in gaining COVID balance


Tribune Business Editor


The Bahamas has reached “a critical juncture” in its battle against COVID-19 where it must balance saving lives and preserving livelihoods, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is warning.

The multilateral lender made the assertion in unveiling a pilot initiative designed to ready “500 self-employed and displaced workers” from the industries hardest hit by the pandemic for the demands of the digital economy.

The IDB, in a paper seen by Tribune Business, said it is partnering on the training with a foundation that has spent the past six years teaching digital skills in multiple Caribbean countries with more than 90 percent of graduates placed in the private sector.

“The Bahamas is now at a critical juncture where saving lives due to the health consequences of COVID-19 must also be balanced with saving livelihoods directly affected by the economic impact of the crisis,” the IDB asserted.

“The disruption in commercial and business activities across sectors such as tourism, financial services and retail and services has caused many companies to re-think the way they do business and seek ways to incorporate new innovations or digital tools as they pivot their business models to adapt to the ‘new normal’.....

“Therefore, businesses must find creative ways to build a knowledge-based economy that improves productivity, competitiveness and prospects for economic growth in a future that is uncertain. This situation is further compounded by the relatively low digital and technological skills of the workforce at every level in these companies.”

While the IDB credited The Bahamas with having broadband Internet penetration that was among the highest in the Latin American and Caribbean region, together with mobile infrastructure, it added: “Many people in the affected workforce post COVID-19 face challenges to equip themselves with the skills for the future of work.

“Many of these workers lack awareness and access to learning new technologies and digital skills due to socioeconomic backgrounds, and the high costs associated with training and education. Further, the livelihoods of women have been particularly impacted, as the tourism industry has traditionally provided many opportunities for the female workforce.

“There continues to be gender disparities in the unemployment numbers with female job seekers being more likely than men to be unemployed. Despite their often-higher levels of educational attainment, unemployment is higher for women with a secondary or university education compared to men.”

With digital transformation critical for Bahamian businesses and the wider economy in terms of ensuring their “continuity, resilience and growth”, the IDB added: “For businesses to make this transition, employees and entrepreneurs must develop digital skills to identify, adopt and leverage opportunities for digital transformation.

“It is within this context that Avasant Foundation will partner with IDB Lab to deliver a digital skills programme to support the re-skilling and upskilling of the impacted workforce in The Bahamas.

“The Avasant Foundation has been working in the Caribbean region over the past six years and has delivered digital skills training and employment placement support in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti and, more recently, Guyana. To date, Avasant Foundation has supported the employment of over 90 percent of digital skills training graduates within the local private sector.”

Turning to the project’s intended 500 beneficiaries, the IDB said: “Most of these displaced workers who have been temporarily or permanently laid off are from families with an average of 3.4 people per household. Therefore the indirect beneficiaries of the project can be estimated as 1,700 family members that experienced loss of income due to the pandemic.

“Priority will be given to participants from low income households with the aptitude to undertake the training programme, and will target at least a 50 percent female participation rate. In The Bahamas, female-headed households have a higher rate of poverty at 9.7 percent as opposed to the poverty rate of 7.9 percent among households headed by men. Additionally, 40 percent of self-employed participants will adopt digital business models.”


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