PRIME Minister Andrew Holness on Tuesday proposed a return to the apprenticeship programme that was in existence decades ago, as he expressed concern about unemployed young men with great potential who idle away their time.
Holness was speaking at the launch of a US$37-million German Ship Repair Jamaica shipyard and maintenance facility to be constructed on the Sir Florizel Glasspole Boulevard strip of Kingston Harbour to create economic opportunities for Jamaica and the region.
The prime minister said that while the country is pleased that the unemployment rate decreased, it is creating a new problem.
He said there should be new opportunities created in different industries which provide trained labour to assist unattached youth who are not a part of the labour force.
“It always hurts me to see our young men, many of them with great potential, just idling away, getting involved in nonsense. And [when this happens] we lose the potential that they have, the skills that they have, and they will never understand that they are placed on Earth to make a contribution to add value — not to be a dead weight loss to the society. But, we have a duty as a society to ensure that they can fulfil their God-given talent,” said Holness.
“The Government doesn’t get a lot of credit for the increase in employment. The last statistics show that we were at about six per cent unemployment, and it is very likely that that number will decrease even further,” he added.
He stressed that once the country provides more trained labour, there will be a further decrease of the unemployment rate, which will have an impact on the level of wages and the potential possibility of growth of industries.
“There are several programmes in place. The HEART/NSTA Trust is tasked with this very critical duty because now this is going to be the binding constraint on growth if we can’t solve this problem in the near future. Whenever I talk about this it is conjuring up in the minds of people that we need to import labour — I am not proposing that that is a solution,” said Holness.
“What I am proposing is that we may very well have to have a system of mandatory training and mandatory attachment, particularly for young people who are leaving school without any form of certification and therefore could not be absorbed into the labour market because they don’t have training,” he said.
“Our young people who are out of the education system and are unattached must mandatorily register with some form of national apprenticeship where they are able to gain and develop these skills,” Holness said.
Holness pointed to the bauxite industry, which he said was the reservoir of technical skills for Jamaicans that drove engineering and allowed the country to have a core of those skills which could serve other industries.
“As the bauxite industry matures, and other issues that are happening in the environment, we must develop another core industry that will become the reservoir of technical skills that can support other industries — and it is clear to me that shipping could be that industry,” he said.
“The Government has to take a strategic approach in working with the German Shipyard to ensure that our young men, who are all excited and many of them would love to be beneficiaries of the opportunity, that you train not only for your shipyard but we will probably have to use you as a training hub where we get some our unattached youth, we give them scholarships, we pay for their tuition, and we develop a round industry — almost paired with Caribbean Maritime University (which is just down the road) in the apprenticeship model,” Holness said.