By Fay Simmons
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister yesterday revealed a Skills Council will be formed to assess the labour needs of each industry as he unveiled plans to combine various training schemes into one National Apprenticeship scheme.
Keith Bell, minister of labour and Immigration, told a Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) breakfast: "In an effort to address the skills gap that exists in our labor force, the Department of Labour with the assistance of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) was poised to implement an apprenticeship programme in 2019.
"The project was intended to provide apprenticeship opportunities to young people between the ages of 18 and 40. However, the programme was suspended due to budgetary cuts and responses to Hurricane Dorian and, of course, COVID-19. We also noticed that numerous ministries, corporations and companies have developed apprenticeship-style programmes, which we find very effective and very good.
"In many countries, including The Bahamas, vocational education and training is provided by a great diversity of institutions. Frequently, such diversity not only makes the training delivery complex, but also leads to duplication of efforts. In this regard, the Government determined that there is a need to amalgamate these various programmes into one nationally-recognised programme to cause a deliberate, focused approach to be designed in line with national development.”
Mr Bell said a National Task Force, consisting of civil servants and industry representatives, and aided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), have created a policy document for the national apprenticeship initiative that will be available in six weeks.
"In October last year, a technical body or commission termed the National Apprenticeship Programme Task Force was appointed to create a framework and policy document for the establishment of a national apprenticeship programme. The Task Force is comprised of all of the tripartite constituents of government workers and employer representatives," Mr Bell said.
“During the past week, the Task Force was ably assisted by the International Labour Organisation's international training set-up in Italy in creating the conceptual framework. I am advised that the policy document should be available in six weeks’ time.”
Mr Bell also revealed that the Apprenticeship Act, which is now 40 years-old, will also be reviewed and that a Skills Council will be formed to identify the needs of each industry
He said: “There will also be a sector Skills Council comprised of seven industry professionals, who will be asked to identify the skills needed in their sectors and create the occupational profiles for the relevant sectors. Undergirding all of this work will be the review and revision of the Apprenticeship Act, which was last revised in 1983. The consultations for that review have already begun, and we will be continuing to move as quickly as possible. “
The National Apprenticeship programme is expected to launch within the next year. Mr Bell maintained that it differs from existing initiatives by offering participants the opportunity to become certified in their field of choice.
He said: “A very significant difference of the Government's goal is that every apprentice not only finds full-time employment, but becomes certified in their field of endeavour. There will be continuous monitoring and evaluation of the programme and training of the apprentices, even after their final certification.
"The implementation of this programme cannot happen overnight. The regulatory framework of enacting a new Bill and establishing the National Apprenticeship Programme will take at least 12 months." Mr Bell said the initiative is designed to assist disadvantaged groups, such as disabled persons and persons with low educational attainment, attain the necessary skills needed to complete recognised industry certifications.
He added: “It is designed to be accessible to marginalised and disadvantaged groups, including the Family Islands, people with disabilities, and youth with low educational attainment. The highlights of the new programme include definition of the apprenticeship programme, which entails a job that includes structured, on-the-job training, combined with a share of related technical off-the-job training to learn a skilled occupation that is certified and recognised by the industry upon completion.
“The apprentice training plan combines training in the workplace with the professional master and related in-class training. A written contract of employment will normally exist between the employer and the apprentice. The apprentice takes an assessment to receive a recognised certification or acquired qualifications upon completion of the apprenticeship.”
Mr Bell acknowledged that many companies have their own apprenticeship programmes. However, the Government wants these consolidated and for participants to obtain professional certifications. Firms that sign on to the National Apprenticeship programme are expected to pay participants' salaries at minimum wage, and select an employee that the apprentice will shadow. The company will hire the apprentice upon successful completion of the programme.
"We do have a number of a lot of splinter programmes but, at the end of the day, the individual is not certified," Mr Bell said. "It's not only important for certification, but it's also important for accreditation, where they can actually use what they have obtained from all of us to obtain higher education, to obtain a job or even to start their own business.
"There are three key stakeholders - the employers, the apprentices and the training providers. The programme cannot, and will not, work without buy-in and participation from all of us. We will be relying on you to register with the National Apprenticeship Agency, pay 100 percent of the salaries of the apprentice at minimum wage, select and hire an apprentice, identify a mentor from within your company who will supervise, train and counsel the apprentice when necessary. T
"The mentor and the apprentice will together devise a training programme, provide the facility and tools that may be needed and, ultimately, hire the apprentice upon completion of his or her programme.” Training providers such as the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) and the University of the Bahamas (UoB) will co-ordinate with industry professionals to formulate a training programme for apprentices to follow.
"The apprentice will sign a contract with the employer to attend work daily, be punctual and, of course, productive," Mr Bell said. “The role of a training provider as envisaged will initially be institutions including BTVI, the National Training Agency and, of course, the University of the Bahamas.
"If there are professions that they do not cover, then we will seek other training providers in the private sector. The training providers will will also, in conjunction with the private sector and the sector industries, create a curriculum for professionals that currently do not have a certificate programme. It is proposed that a new agency will be created, the National Apprenticeship Agency, to execute this programme which will be governed by a National Apprenticeship Board.”