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Firefighter shortage hardly the tip of labour iceberg

The shortage of qualified Bermudian firefighters was a problem waiting to happen (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The airport dilemma with the firefighters is the latest indicator of our ageing population but also a test of our standing in the world of trade and technology. Truthfully, it would not matter what area of the economy we compare; we would still show a deficit in the numbers of persons available.

This has been a mushrooming saga beginning decades ago and whose typical response was met with protest. The issue at hand is not one of replacing a Bermudian, as there just are not enough of them and then far less when considering who is available.

We cannot force persons to be firefighters or to join the police service. By comparison, I walked into a bank in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and could not help but notice that almost all of the staff were in their twenties and university graduates with business degrees. Very characteristic of Halifax because it is a university town where every year the city gets a surge of more than 50,000 students. Not only that, there is so much talent available to hire now that the population has swelled with migrations from the Middle East and other war-torn areas.

We have a double whammy in Bermuda: we are not producing eligible students for the workforce, but also an unsustainable number have left our shores and living in places such as England. We can no longer dance around the topic of international standards because, like with other industries, aircraft will not get the clearance to fly where there are no certified safety compliances. The same has become true with insurance and even accounting practices.

In the past, when we have had these challenges, we met them with protest and labour demand when the appropriate tools should have been education and training.

The world with each geopolitical event has become more and more diverse. At the moment, hundreds of thousands of young Russian men are escaping through the neighbouring borders and will ultimately find themselves in the West. The Gulf storm created a wave of migrations.

With each wave, the competition in the job market is impacted and that is without considering normal assimilation with the Asian work pools from places such as Malaysia and the Philippines who near mass-produce in the medical fields with nurses and doctors.

There is no comfortable position here except moving with the times because there is no road back to the past. Old politics based on protectionist nativity must give way to a New World understanding with a new way of politics based on openness. Every economy needs people with skills, and a smart politic is to recognise the inherent need for persons to have acceptance and mobility.

We have been talking about revitalising tourism, and the Fairmont Southampton is part of that revitalisation plan. However, where are 700 to 800 workers coming from? We hear talks of a need for thousands more in the workplace. Where are the thousands coming from and what will they do?

The airport debacle is hardly the tip of the iceberg, but is very much an indication of more to come. How we approach this situation belies the clue as to what our future holds.

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Published October 03, 2022 at 1:12 pm (Updated October 03, 2022 at 1:12 pm)

Firefighter shortage hardly the tip of labour iceberg

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