President Irfaan Ali is about to sign an agreement with UWI (based in Jamaica) to train 20,000 folks in advanced specialized skills to meet the needs of a society on the take-off stage. Let’s set aside for a moment the horrible way Guyanese were informed of the plan – no national discussion, none with the Ministry of Education or with the State-run University.
For some context of the subject under discussion, here is a short passage from Lee Kuan Yew’s book, The Singapore story (page 58):
“We had a real-life problem to solve and could not afford to be conscribed by any theory or dogma. Singapore had no natural resources for MNC’s (multinational corporations) to exploit. All it had were hardworking people, good basic infrastructure, and a govt that was determined to be honest and competent. Our duty was to create a livelihood for 2 million Singaporeans. If MNC’s could give our workers employment and teach them technical and engineering skills and management know-how, we should bring in the MNC’s.
“The EDB’s (Economic. Deve-lopment Board) main concentration was on four industries – ship breaking and repair, metal engineering, chemicals, and electrical equipment and appliances”.
To follow a line of thought from the above passage: What new industries does Guyana have on its planning board? It’s educational plan for basic skills and advanced training must be aligned to its industrial development plan. There has been no survey to determine Guyana’s labour and skill needs.
For example: If Guyana is planning to bring in IKEA to manufacture and export furniture (making use of Guyana’s fine lumber) and Del Monte to can fruits and vegetables for export (making use of Guyana’s ability to grow fruits and vegetables) – then it needs to train its citizens in furniture engineering, manufacture and design; canning and operating canning factories, cooking and nutrition. Specialized schools offering these skills must be brought online. With the help of Del Monte and IKEA.
President Ali’s plan may not be all that hare-brained, but it needs a lot more explaining. President Ali needs some good advisors and good PR people for sure.
We absolutely must distinguish between two levels of training – the kind GTI (Govt. Technical Institute) offers and the kind a University offers. My life-experiences would suggest that Guyana needs to train 40,000 students/workers (in 5-years) in the skills offered at GTI – basic engineering, mechanic, plumbing, construction trades, surveying, architectural drawing. Government would do well to expand capacity of GTI ten-fold. Make it available to students/ workers in all regions of the country.
Editor, permit me this anecdote (hopefully I can keep this letter under 750 words). I came to New York 48-years ago. At weekends all the young Trinidadian and Guyanese would hang out at someone’s apartment. Lots of liquor and beers and talk. One Trini blurted out, “How come every Guyanese I run into is a teacher or civil servant. Are there no other jobs? It made me realize that none of us had any real skills to get good-paying jobs. We all worked in hotels, office and bank clerks, store-help – all low-paying jobs. Then one day a Guyanese guy appeared. He had graduated from GTI and possessed something called a City and Guilds Certificate. He had gone for an interview at a factory – a hundred workers on the floor operating machines making – maybe jewellery, leather bags. The manager needed a man who could fix these machines when they break down, train workers, organize line assemblies. He got the job – his starting pay was (as I recall) about ten times what the bunch of clerical workers made – all possessed GCE (equivalent HS diploma). Bottom line: an emerging economy needs lots of GTI-trained folks to propel Guyana into a developed country. A High School diploma is not a skills certificate – all it means is that you know to read and write.
I would urge President Ali to develop a plan for GTI to produce 40,000 graduates in 5-years. These skills and in those numbers are more urgently needed to help drive an emerging economy. Not a substitute for University graduates, but I would suggest – scale up GTI training, scale down this UWI plan. Also, skills training plans must be done in collaboration with the industrial plan – or as one writer suggested – with the employers’ association, Chamber of Commerce.
Caution: If your industrial plan does not take off, there is a good chance that 70% of the 20,000 expensively-trained folks (UWI doesn’t come cheap) will depart Guyana in search of jobs outside. Your industrial plan must be aligned with your skills-training plan.