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Are Employers in Trinidad and Tobago just ‘whining’, or is the ‘skills’ problem real?

Education and training are important determinants of firm performance. Through a well-educated and trained workforce, firms have better access to information, expertise, and knowledge which can enhance their productivity and competitiveness. Firms with more educated owners or entrepreneurs also tend to perform better in terms of sales and profits and are more likely to have better survival rates.

However, an ‘inadequately educated workforce’ is often cited as the ‘most serious’ constraint to firms in Trinidad and Tobago. A review of several private sector surveys conducted by both local and international organizations have consistently reported this perception (see IDB, 2016). If these perceptions are true, it implies a major policy gap that should be addressed if the private sector is to become a key driver of sustainable economic growth.

Firms Are Not Just Whining; The Skills Gap Is Real

We find empirical evidence which supports the perceptions of businesspersons that a skills gap exists in Trinidad and Tobago. The evidence suggests an undersupply of workers with university degrees, secondary education, and secondary education with training. Underemployment also exists, particularly for university graduates (Table 1). In fact, the University of the West Indies tracer survey for Trinidad and Tobago shows that more than half of graduates from the largest faculty-Social Sciences-perceive their university degree to not be relevant to their current job. This is reflected in an increasing unemployment rate for Trinidad and Tobago graduates since 2009 (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Labour Demand and Supply Differentiated by Educational Level (percent)

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Source: PROTEqIN Survey, 2014

Table 1: Required Minimum Education and Average Education (percent of firms)

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Figure 2. Percent of Trinidad and Tobago Graduates Employed

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Source: IDB (2016)

 

What to do about it?

Since there is already a stock of qualified individuals, though not perfectly aligned to the skills requirements of firms, one option available to policymakers and firms is to establish programs that can retrain and retool the existing human capital stock so that they can become more relevant to the labor market and contribute to productivity growth. There are many ways one can establish training programs. One example is via apprenticeship programs. In a recent IDB publication this idea was explored to address the labor market challenges in Latin America and Caribbean. The study noted that apprenticeship type programs can boost productivity and innovation, reduce the skills mismatch and help workers gain access to a stable career ladder. Such programs should, however, be guided by 10 core elements: “(i) alignment with country development strategies, (ii) adequate governance arrangements, (iii) high levels of employer engagement, (iv) appropriate funding and incentive structures, (v) robust curriculum design, (vi) robust curriculum delivery, (vii) robust assessment methodologies that are relevant to the occupation in which the apprentice is being trained, (viii) certification and opportunities for further progression for the apprentice, (ix) suitable support in the form of apprenticeship career services for apprentices, and last but definitely not least, (x) strong quality assurance mechanisms for the delivery of the apprenticeship program, which must take into account all of the aforementioned core elements and which should be highly articulated with countries’ skills development systems overall” (Fazio, Fernández-Coto and Ripani, 2016, pg. ii). Whether apprenticeship or other types of training programs are used to address the labour market challenge, one thing is clear, there is a need for the rethinking of human capital development policies that can support the country’s long-term economic development objectives and reduce the current skills mismatch.

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3 Comments

  • avatar image
    sally radford
    March 23, 2017 Reply

    social sciences include economics and management, vital skills for the country. graduates should be employed in the police service to solve crime. economists can form companies to invest in resources including agriculture. crime undermines development and even awyers are avoiding criminal cases since they are targets for killers. even police are killed. racial envy is rife especially in the public service. rural communities dominated by indians suffer as agriculture has the lowest budget. wetlands can be farmed with water buffalo for meat and cheese to curb imports but these animals are allowed to run wild while wild animals are hunted for food. iconic fruits- cocoa, coconut, mango, citrus, guava- can be developed by nestle, unilever, witco, angostura, massy, hyatt, hilton and carib to priove drinks and toiletries, cutting the import bill. bamboo can be the basis foir a craft and textile industry while conserving water. the regime is borrowing unsustainably and raiding the hsf instead of mutualising all state assets to gain evenue. energy companies are prevented from selling oil and gas and must close plants due to shortages because the state company is an aggregator.

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    SALLY RADFORD
    March 24, 2017 Reply

    aXING GRANTS FOR UNIVERSITY STUDENTS WILL HIT THE RURAL POPULATION, LEADING TO EARLY MARRIAGE AND POPULATION GROWTH AS YOUTH ARE DEPRIVED OF OPPORTUNITIES. UNEMPLOYMENT CAN BE REDUCED BY IMPROVING FOOD MARKETS WITH REFRIGERATION AND GIVING STALLS TO DEMOBILIZED WORKERS TO SELL FOOD AND HORTICULTURAL MATERIALS INSTEAD OF COMMUNIST IMPORTS AND FAKES. SOCIAL SCIENCE IS A SOFT OPTION FOR STUDENTS AND HAS THE MAJORITY OF GRADUATES, OVERSHADOWING ENGINEERING AND AGRICULTURE WHERE MOST JOBS EXIST. YOUTHS WANT CLEAN OFFICE JOBS AND AVOID DEXTROUS WORK, UWI AGRICULTURE FACULTY WILL CELEBRATE ITS CENTENARY IN 2022 AND NEEDS FUNDING TO INCENTIVISE STUDENTS AND PROMOTE LOCAL CONTENT FOR ACADEMIC STAFF. CRIME HAS THE LARGEST BUDGET YET SECURITY IS WORSE THAN EVER UNDER THE PRIME MINISTER. MILITANT UNIONS, BIASED CIVIL SERVANTS, CORRUPT POLICE AND JUDICIARY AND A COARSE CULTURE MUST SHARE THE BLAME FOR THE SOCIAL MESS IN THIS REPUBLIC, BLESSED WITH NATURAL RESOURCES. CASINOS, AL;COHOL, TATTOOS, HAIRDYE AND EXTENSIONS , TATTOO PARLOURS AND NOISY MUSIC CONSUME CASH AND THE WATCHWORDS OF DISCIPLINE, TOLERANCE AND PRODUCTION ARE IGNORED. TTD IS REJECTED EVEN IN CARICOM AIRPORTS WHERE USD HOLD SWAY BUT IS ACCEPTABLE DURING HURRICANES AND EARTHQUAKES WHEN THE REGION WILL TAKE THE LOCAL DOLLAR. IN AID.

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    Mervyn Stewart
    April 11, 2017 Reply

    Though very much on-point, I would suggest a subtle but critical re-focusing of the opening sentence of Jeetendra Khadan's piece above. Instead of "Education and Training are important determinants of a firms performance", I would strongly emphasize that COMPETENCE is the major determinant of a firms performance; be it at the shop-floor level or the executive suite. Since the focus of the article is at the shop-floor skills level, it is important to recognize that education and training are mere inputs to competence; as inputs they speak to "potential competence". It is much wiser I suggest, to focus on clinical management of competence in the workplace, via robust competence management frameworks and policies. Once this is properly addressed, the required training and education, or mentoring and coaching initiatives would be readily seen as vehicles through which the firms goals are to be achieved - via competent people. I say expand the focus from education and training to competence in the workplace. But that required a clinical determination of the competences that the firm really needs as a first step.

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