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Call for more skilled trades training

More must be done to support the training of skilled trades workers in Bermuda, a leading industry figure told attendees at a construction and trade industry conference.

Will Irvine, executive director of the Construction Association of Bermuda, was speaking on a panel at “2020 Vision: Straight Up. No Chaser”, presented by recruitment and immigration consultancy firm The Catalyst Group Ltd.

He said the CAOB and Government's Department of Workforce Development had collaborated on an apprenticeship programme that was the first of its kind in a decade.

But Mr Irvine warned that some 900 skilled trades people in Bermuda, or nearly half the skilled trades workforce, are between the ages of 40 and 54. “Nearly half is middle-aged,” he said.

The construction industry executive lamented the closing of Bermuda Technical Institute, which he said resulted in “two lost generations” of skilled trades people, and said a thread of continuity is required to take young people interested in the skilled trades from middle school, through high school to Bermuda College, and then into the industry.

BTI opened in 1956 to provide a high calibre of technical training to male students between the ages of 12 and 17. Some 600 students graduated before the school closed in 1972.

Mr Irvine said Bermuda wasn't doing enough to encourage people to enter the trades, nor was it “skilling-up” workers so that they can engage in skilled trades work, adding that the island had an ample supply of instructors able to teach the necessary skills.

Government is spending $137 million on education in the coming fiscal year, but is putting “zero into technical training”, Mr Irvine said.

He added: “We need skilled workers to support the economy. No one will invest here if we are not productive.

“As a group, we have to convince our family members that they can create a livelihood out of a construction job.”

Mr Irvine said the solution will only come from industry and government working together to address the issues.

Construction activity was up by 13 per cent in 2019 to twice the volumes of the period 2014 through 2017, said Barbara Tannock of The Catalyst Group.

Building permits were up 36 per cent, from 694 in 2018 to 946 in 2019.

Work on bridges, roads and the airport constituted 45 per cent of construction work, with residential construction projects accounting for 19 per cent, and work on hotels and guesthouses accounting for 17.5 per cent, Ms Tannock said.

Construction jobs grew by 4.1 per cent, but the value of new projects fell by almost 9 per cent.

The industry contributed 3.8 per cent of Bermuda's gross domestic product, which represented growth of 14.2 per cent over 2018.

The Budget Statement presented last month by Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, included a boost for the Department of Workforce Development.

In fiscal year 2020-21, the DWD will receive an increase in budget for scholarships of $100,000 to $450,000, and an increase in budget for apprenticeships by $25,000 to $420,000.

The DWD falls under the Ministry of Labour, Community Affairs and Sport, which is to receive a budget allocation of $18.7 million for the fiscal year ahead, the same as its 2019-20 allocation.

Will Irvine: executive director of the Construction Association of Bermuda (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 10, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated March 09, 2020 at 10:29 pm)

Call for more skilled trades training

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