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Giving our people the tools to succeed

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Push for equality: The quest for racial justice and gender equity should not be issues that we are prepared to ignore any longer

The Progressive Labour Party’s 2025 vision statement also endorsed the Bermuda College partnering with the Bermuda Government to promote local “application development”.

• A PLP government will work through the Bermuda College to develop, maintain and enhance online applications that can make government more efficient and by doing so reduce the need for high-priced IT consultants. We believe that real world benefits by way of this collaboration can be achieved. Moreover, as well as providing and facilitating real world skills on the part of the students; the applications developed can then be licensed to governments worldwide as the 2025 document noted.

• In addition, we will seek to establish a “technological incubator” at Southside. The object here is to facilitate start-ups in the technology field by creating a series of introductory tax incentives for those companies willing to domicile on the Island.

In addition, our planned investment in the so called “Green Economy” will create the type of 21st century industries and therefore jobs that Bermuda desperately needs as it converts to solar and other forms of alternative energy.

If we are to become truly a “centre of excellence” and compete effectively in the worldwide battle for smart talent, we can do no less.

I am also a big advocate of the establishment of a Cabinet-level task force to coordinate workplace development policies at a strategic level. There is ample evidence to suggest that we must double down on our efforts in this regard and that it is of high national interest that we do so.

The term “joined-up government” is now viewed as somewhat of a quaint cliché but we need it more than ever; and to borrow another cliché, we perhaps need “joined-up government on steroids”, more than ever, to meet this challenge.

A multi-departmental strategic task force for workforce development would be key to helping us to achieve this.

A prospective task force would be chaired by the minister with responsibility for workforce development. It will also consist of those ministers for other departments, namely workforce development, statistics, immigration, education, finance and economic development.

All six of those departments have a critical role to play with respect to our success or failure on this issue. These departments would have the task of supporting the respective ministers at the Cabinet level who would have responsibility for formulating overall strategic workforce development objectives.

A multi-departmental strategic task force, or MDSTF, would conceivably meet at least once every two to three months. The task force idea is designed to transcend silo mentality and to have a policy formulation group with the flexibility to harness the best information to formulate workforce development policy.

Change is happening in this regard at the speed of light, thus we must from a strategic perspective move our efforts to the next level to ensure that our competitive advantage is enhanced and that our people are not left behind.

I would also charge such a task force with responsibility for the formulation of a policy and legislative agenda with respect to the attainment of racial and gender equity and/or diversity goals with respect to employment in Bermuda.

This has been an issue that has continued to bedevil us and it remains one that we must address without fear or favour if we are to finally begin to create a Bermuda that provides social and racial justice for our people.

Certainly, the quest for racial justice and that of gender equity as recently highlighted by Brian Duperreault, the CEO of Hamilton Insurance Group, as an outgrowth of a recent PwC report, should not be issues that we are prepared to willingly ignore any longer.

If Intel gets it, as it did in January of this year by allocating $300 million to facilitate a more diverse and inclusive workplace for blacks, Latinos and women in the tech industry, which is overwhelmingly dominated by white and Asian males, then why should we continue to run from this issue in Bermuda?

The same rationale used to advocate for more gender inclusiveness at the corporate level should equally apply with respect to the issue of racial inclusiveness.

This, too, should form part of our effort to enhance our competitive advantage.

With respect to the Department of Workforce Development and acknowledging its efforts in the creation of the National Training Plan (Part 1), I would recommend that the department be charged with the development and launching of a National Skills Strategy for the 21st century.

The main elements of the strategy should be:

• Development of a national programme for employers based on the Employer Training Pilots scheme.

• Reform of qualifications to make them more employer-friendly and responsive to business needs.

• Foster more employer involvement in the design and delivery of modern apprenticeships.

• The creation of better business support services so that employers know who to turn to for help on skills, linking local learning and skills councils.

• Develop a “National Skills Policy for Employers” to address chronic skills shortages across different occupational groupings.

• Enlisting trade unions to help to promote learning.

• Provide learning centres (other than Bermuda College).

• Consider expanding the national vocational assessments framework (NVQ).

• Invest in sufficient progression opportunities and more trainee posts to address future skill needs.

The department should also be given the authority and autonomy to develop a National Skills Strategy Framework or National Qualifications Framework. This is a huge task, yet nonetheless a critically necessary one.

To achieve success and maintain a competitive advantage, we must be able to provide all of the tools necessary for our people to succeed.

With a prospective Cabinet-level task force operating at the strategic level, acting in tandem with the Department of Workforce Development and other departments, we can better prioritise and prepare Bermuda and its people for the critical structural challenges that lie immediately ahead of us.

I hope that I have conveyed a sense of what is at risk here. Unless we mobilise to address these issues with urgency, I am afraid that we risk a relative regression in our standard of living, the continued decimation of Bermuda’s middle class and the continued undermining of our social cohesion as a society.

Certainly it will transform our politics in ways that are still not entirely clear.

The decisions that we make now will determine whether the Bermuda we bequeath to our children and grandchildren will be better than the one that we inherited.

Those decisions will also determine whether we further realise our ambitions as an island state boxing well above our weight — sitting at the crossroads of world commerce and finance, much like the ancient city states of Africa and Italy during the renaissance period — or whether we become a global backwater. The choice is ours.

There is a great debate as to how all of this will impact upon our political culture, our system of government and the democratic nature of societies such as ours.

The question is whether any country can maintain those values in an environment marked by growing income inequality and one in which a strong and dynamic middle class begins to disappear. A world in effect where the value of human labour continues to fall.

Are we at that point in Bermuda? I would argue no.

Yet the signs are there to suggest that unless we move precipitously to address the implications of this technological revolution for Bermuda’s future, the great gains that were made over the past 60 years could be at risk and the Bermuda of 2025 will be quite unlike the one we all hope for.

• Rolfe Commissiong is the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East (Constituency 21) and the Shadow Minister of Human Affairs. This is the fourth in a four-part series that encapsulates a paper on the impact of technological change that was presented before the House of Assembly.

Rolfe Commissiong, the Shadow Minister of Human Affairs (File photograph)