Our youngsters can rebuild Bermuda’
Young Bermudians could “easily” replace hundreds of work permit holders in the building trades, an industry leader has claimed.
Will Irvine, the executive director of the Construction Association of Bermuda, said teenagers were ripe for training and that he aimed to present trades careers as an attractive employment option.
He explained: “Construction is giving out hundreds of work permits a year and there is a population there that can easily be trained in a period of time that will allow them to work in that work-permit category.”
Now, Mr Irvine and Simon Tully, the organisation’s new president, have joined forces with the Government to boost the sector.
Mr Irvine hopes parents, teachers and companies would join the campaign.
He said: “It just doesn’t make sense to have foreign workers when there’s an underemployed population of capable individuals, so we can’t think of that as an option.”
Mr Irvine added that a balance between having enough workers on sites and taking the time to grow local talent had to be struck.
He said: “As a country, Bermuda needs to decide what’s the priority — making sure the companies have labour? They can bring that in from overseas and all that additional cost of flights and accommodation is absorbed into the cost of the business ... the priority is servicing that industry.
“If the priority becomes servicing our population of young people then everybody focuses on that and we start to train our local kids in that industry.
“If we’re reinvesting money, time and effort into our own population, then that becomes a priority, not so much making sure we have a fleet of foreign workers, and it will start to sustain itself.
“The priority so far is allowing business to continue and there’s nothing wrong with that but it shouldn’t have to be the only priority. We’ve got to look after ourselves.”
Mr Irvine said the average age of experienced craftsmen and women in the construction industry was well into the 40s and in about 15 years that expertise could be lost.
He added: “We are missing a trick by not creating a legacy behind them.”
Mr Irvine said: “If you make a decision at 16 to pursue trades, you’ve got two more years of senior school left.
“You get your basic foundation, so either you can do an apprenticeship programme or go straight into the college.
“With that you’re getting on-the-job training and work experience, you’re getting paid for that while you are living at home and then once you qualify you can go out and support yourself, get your apartment and start building your life, while your friends are still at university, racking up debt.
“People really need to stop and think about that as a realistic option, there are lots of technical learners — office jobs aren’t for them.”
The CAOB has also teamed up with the Department of Workforce Development to create structured apprenticeship programmes that include qualifications for several trades.
The organisation was also looking at how technical training could be expanded in Bermuda’s public high schools to capture talent early.
Mr Tully said: “Everybody has to go to school but instead of sitting in a classroom learning French, for argument’s sake, why aren’t you in a classroom setting learning how to scale plans?”
He said the removal of trades schools in Bermuda was “a terrible blow to any sort of advancement”.
Mr Tully added: “I would like to see, within the next Budget statement, that there is going to be educational consideration towards establishing a trade school that will utilise empty government properties, so you’re not spending money to try to build something new.
“Utilise what we have to try to reinvigorate trades in Bermuda.”
Mr Tully backed the return of an apprenticeship training council and highlighted the importance of ensuring tradespeople are qualified.
He said: “That’s where we have to move forwards with Bermuda, because you reasonably expect your accountant or your lawyer to have pursued their further development but you’re not worried about the guy that might flood your house, or create some spark and a fire?
“It’s bizarre that seems to be acceptable and we need to try to temper that.”
Mr Tully added: “We’re out to try to right the wrong that people will just go and learn on the job. There is something to be said for that, because that is also part of it.
“It won’t all be classroom or lab work but let’s try to figure out how we encourage young people to get into the trades.
“With bachelor’s degrees the supply is outstripping the demand, but in the trades it’s the opposite way around. There is not a steady supply, but the demand is there and you earn a decent living.”
Mr Tully said Bermuda could follow the example of the UK and the United States, where apprenticeship programmes were successful, and that local businesses must also invest in the industry’s future.
Mr Tully said: “You have to have somebody to mentor them within the company.
“Companies have to have the buy-in to say, this kid wants to learn. If you’re going to help them move forward in the trade, you’re going to have to train them. Don’t just use them as the next piece of muscle.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Workforce Development said its partnership with the CAOB included partial funding for construction scholarships and an annual grant for programmes that promoted the sector.
The department also arranges presentations for school students and in the community to highlight the need for trades workers and give information about apprenticeship opportunities.