Adapting to this new world
A few months ago I greeted a couple of Pacific Islanders and helped them find accommodations. I naturally asked how they liked being in Bermuda. To which their response was that they found the work environment much more comfortable. “How so?” was my next question — now these were accountants. Their response was very interesting. They said they had worked in Malaysia and it was push-push and extremely demanding. They were expected almost always to work overtime every day and for long shifts back-to-back at times. The real part is it was expected of them and to do less meant you could lose your employment.
OK, I'm not condoning that kind of aggressively driven environment, but I know parallel with the demand in that country is an education system that boasts about the number of senior graduates it produces every year. Students coming out of university ready to take up the challenge of life and enter the work market.
Let me begin by saying that I relish the calmness that Bermuda once had in its workforce that wasn't hurried but was proficient. They didn’t work at a heart-attack pace; in fact, they lived long lives in comparison to many jurisdictions. It would be no anomaly back in the 1960s or 1970s to have an 80-year-old climbing a roof. Let me repeat: they weren't always the fastest, but they were very proficient and knew what they were doing..
The unions in Canada guarantee that their members are not only efficient but proficient and, of course, it doesn't happen because it's their sole mandate to ensure workers are properly trained; they have an abundance of trade schools that churn out a steady supply of trainable young adults for the work market each year. We must say “each year” with emphasis because the cycle of life is such that the workforce is born and dies simultaneously.
Fast forward, how do we reconcile this clash and systems that have derived separately but now clash in the world's open labour market? We have over the past 60-plus years lived under a unionised work environment. Added to that, we abandoned the development of trade and technical persons, and have become near totally reliant on foreign workers and institutions to provide proficiency. Sadly, I can no longer say "well, they may not be as fast but they are proficient".
I don't want to quote the inevitable, but no amount of “beef up your pride” programmes is going to deliver us from the truth. If I can say, metaphorically, the baby was born in the world stillborn in a global context. The baby is born without the apparatus to thrive in a hostile world. No use pointing the fingers, as there's plenty of blame to share around. It's a classic, systemic and complete breakdown where there is an absence of relevant education and training, and adherence to things that are no longer relevant to the work industry the way it was more than 60 years ago.
We need education reform, for sure, but also trade union reform. Industry-led apprenticeships were what built our early model; it was symbiotic between education and industry. Trade unionism was meant to level the playing field to bring uniformity to salaries and benefits between workers. Collective bargaining became an instrument quickly emerging to be the main tool. However, the real guarantees for employment have always been skills.
Skills in the former days were easy to come by and almost universal in the community, many of whom as Bermudian tradesmen were differentiated from their American and Canadian counter tradesmen because Bermudians had more diversified skill sets. Aside from the Government dropping the ball on technical education for 50 years, there is no symbiosis with unionism and training, which leads to a huge market problem.
Two roles must be changed in order for the next generations to survive in this world. The Government must reintroduce technical education and the union must focus on developing the other side of the equation, which is production. If there is anything we need to rebuild, it is our capacity as individuals in our country.
As individuals, we need to develop personal resources to be able to foster a livelihood and provide a valuable service or skill that is needed, even if in art. Then we can be proud to be called Bermudian.