The time to retool our skills is now
Last Sunday, during my morning stroll through Facebook, I glanced at a long thread. Perhaps one of the longest threads in recent local social-media history.
More than 800 comments generated by an extremely false claim that the Bermuda Government was about to kick guest workers off the island.
Some commenters stating quite openly that the Government is xenophobic and wants to get rid of everyone ranging from chefs at local restaurants, masons and those involved in international business.
So, for clarity, let’s have a few reality checks.
Facts over fiction
Fact No 1: the Bermuda Government has never said it is going to kick out all foreigners or that all foreigners should leave. Those are the words of an irresponsible person and/or those who wish to echo idle chatter.
No 2: the reality is that the hospitality industry, in particular, is most likely going to be slow to non-existent for the balance of 2020.
So, yes, there will be some guest workers with no work. Many of whom would, understandably, want to return to their home countries.
However, the Catch-22 is that, barring direct charter flights to their countries, they have no way home at present.
Interestingly enough, Cayman Islands is in the same predicament as us:
“The airlines have to be certain that people have onward booking. We’re speaking to the UK, we can try and get flexibility, but until people can show they have onward bookings and tickets to go somewhere else from London, and then there’s not a lot the UK can do, and the airlines as well. So, it just remains very challenging and we’ll have to look at this sort of case by case.” — Martyn Roper, Governor of Cayman Islands (Cayman Compass, April 25)
So, with those facts laid bare, let us stop attempting to infer the negative.
Equally, for those Bermudians who are expecting a mass exodus of guest workers, there is a severe reality check that we must have as both individuals and as a country.
Let’s ask ourselves one singular question.
Exactly how many Bermudians are willing and able right now to do work in the following professions?
• Auto mechanics
• Auto body repair
• Heating, ventilation and air conditioning
• Software engineering
The key words in this instance are “technical ability”.
Those professions listed are but some of the professions that will be always needed — recession or no recession.
Professions such as nursing, landscaping, masonry and culinary arts are now majority-staffed by non-Bermudians.
The list of reasons why this exists in the year 2020 is endless. Be it pay scales to working conditions or hours, the reality is that Bermudians are the minority in far too many skilled trades.
Yet the numerical reality is that until and unless we have thousands of Bermudians trained to do those professions, for our country to function on a daily basis, we will be forever reliant on a certain number of guest workers.
Each of those professions require a number of years of theoretical and practical training to be qualified.
Over the past month, approximately 11,000 persons filed for unemployment benefits. Many are Bermudians who have never had to depend on a handout in their lives.
Yet the reality is for far too many years we, as a country, have turned our backs on the very trades that will always need hands-on employment that provides steady and reliable income.
We, as individuals and as a country, must be prepared to learn the skills needed to keep our country running.
For those looking to retool, the Bermuda College offers a variety of courses through its Professional and Career Education programme.
The Construction Association of Bermuda also has training courses going.
Additionally, the Government has provided more than $500,000 to the college, over the past two years, in order for persons to retool in a variety of professions.
Outside of those channels, there still exists a generation of skilled Bermudian tradesmen that are willing to pass on their skills to others.
In closing, we must accept the following facts:
• Thousands may be unemployed for extended durations of time
• The government unemployment benefits will come to an end by July
• There will be no magic bullet short cuts to our individual and collective economic recovery
For those Bermudians who are willing to retool to become trained and qualified in any given skilled trade, there are options available.
It is time for us to stop listening to idle and irresponsible talk, but rather begin to chart new directions towards occupations that are somewhat insulated from health pandemics and economic recessions.
In short, it is time to be honest with ourselves as individuals and as a country.
• Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at email@example.com
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