Getting our young people back to work
The Covid-19 pandemic has really taken its toll on Bermuda's youth unemployment. If you look at the 2018 workforce development survey, you will find that the unemployment rate for persons under 25 rose to 18 per cent of that population.
This is triple the national unemployment rate of 6 per cent at that time. Can you imagine what it is after Covid-19? We can conservatively estimate this to rise to between 20 per cent and 25 per cent.
These staggering realities are causing anxiety among many of our young people. They are frustrated with living at home with their parents, they are looking overseas for employment opportunities, some are knocking on doors looking for jobs, and others are doing whatever they can to survive to maintain their dignity and self-sufficiency.
Others who may not be as ambitious are getting involved in nefarious activities and the gang culture, and are placing themselves at risk. Others have just given up and are letting the days pass them by.
What can we do? How can we support our young relatives, friends and associates?
Let's begin with the Bermuda College
Bermuda College is a national treasure. The Government and Bermuda's private sector allocate significant resources and investments to the college annually to ensure its success. It is internationally recognised and operates with internationally accredited standards. Its reputation is bearing fruit and can be favourably compared to many North American and British institutions.
It is more than qualified to contribute to develop young people and to address the increased unemployment of Bermuda's young people.
As in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and recession, the college was at the heart of Bermuda's recovery initiatives, especially for your young people and young adults. It played an integral role in helping to rebuild Bermuda's economy. Today, it must step forward and play a similar role. This is important, as Bermuda has not seen a recession of this scale for decades.
The gains that Bermuda has realised since the 2008 global crisis cannot be placed at risk.
How can we mitigate this risk?
We can do so by providing tertiary education in a manner that is flexible and adaptive to the needs of our young people, our vulnerable, single parents, our disabled learners and our business community.
Our college must continue to provide a more work-based curriculum that will support our economic recovery. This can be done by introducing short-term professional development courses, trade courses, hospitality courses, and business courses that can be provisionally geared for furloughed staff and young people who wish to retrain and upgrade their skills.
In addition, the college could position itself to provide postgraduate skills training to students and professionals who may have lost their jobs through mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing or redundancies.
These programmes can be done through the college's in-house programmes, or through the articulation programmes the college enjoys with other international universities.
These programmes can include health sciences, insurance/reinsurance, entrepreneurship, financial services, banking, web-based technology and other professional designations.
The other tool is apprenticeships and traineeships
When it comes to apprenticeships and traineeships, the Government must continue to take the lead. It must bring more Bermuda business partners on board and to the table. This is essential, given that these schemes have a proven track record of making valued contributions to our society, developing our young people, developing our employment market, and providing employment for our younger employees.
Despite the above, many of our business partners have been financially challenged. Some of our partners have closed and some are still in business but have had to suspend many of their apprenticeships. Let's bring them back to the table.
We need a real respectful partnership. The Government must support these businesses and provide them with incentives to reignite their training programmes.
Here it should be noted that a number of our business partners also need a shift of their mindset. They cannot continue to be reluctant to hire our graduates because they feel that they are seen as providing a babysitting service.
Some mason, carpenters and mechanics have said that they support the apprenticeship initiatives but are not prepared to provide babysitting services. We need young people who are capable and willing to work.
I understand employers' reservations, but if they want to truly improve their businesses' productivity and reputation, they must park their old mindset at the door. Everyone must have skin in the game. They must make a commitment to work with the Department of Workforce Development and our young interns, apprentices and trainees. Everyone will benefit.
We believe the workforce development team is doing its best. It is trying to provide career pathways for our young people. It is providing apprenticeship programmes for new employees. It is facilitating and providing traineeships and apprenticeships for locals who want to retool themselves. It is also providing local internships to local companies and external internships to overseas companies. It provides scholarships to our young people and facilitates day-release programmes through our Bermuda business partners and the Bermuda College, and it provides certification programmes for promising employees. There are many other positive things it does to deliver qualified people poised and ready to enter the workforce.
Having said that though, the workforce development team has its challenges. It cannot deliver the goods, be effective and reduce Bermuda's youth unemployment challenges by itself.
It needs the support, synergy and collaboration of the Bermuda College, the National Training Board, the Department of Immigration, a workforce equity team and industry. They must work together for the benefit of the whole. They should have regular meetings with all stakeholders at the table.
The immigration department and the workforce development department should have systems that speak to each other with live data. An example is that workforce development could have accessed a live profile of the Department of Immigration's job-market demands. Conversely, the immigration department should have access to workforce development's live data, which show the development and qualifications of those young Bermudians who continue to qualify and graduate from the various training courses, and who are capable of filling jobs presented to our Department of Immigration.
This silo business mentality and infrastructure must stop. It benefits no one.
This “silo infrastructure” recently manifested itself through the newly appointed minister responsible for immigration. He was asked in the House of Assembly by the shadow minister how many people applied for the 159 work permits that were declined by the department. The minister responded by saying that he did not know the answer, and he gave an undertaking to get that information for the House when he had the answer.
I applaud the minister for his honesty, as the information was not made available to him. He was placed in this precarious position because he really did not know the number of Bermudians available and capable of doing the job because the workforce development team and the immigration team were working independent of one another — in silos.
These two government department systems are not integrated. They are not feeding each other, and so the outcome was that our employers were not getting employees to sustain their businesses, and our workforce development graduates were not getting the jobs declined in the community by the Department of Immigration.
There were no winners because of poor governance and management, poor communications, and a lack of proper collaboration within this government.?Our young people lose out again.
Creating jobs and hiring young Bermudians must be a priority for this government. They must begin at home within the walls of government.
These government departments must have the tools to match our workforce graduates, with some of the employment openings that come before the Immigration Board. They must make it happen. They must integrate their information technology systems so that they are able to effectively share and use data that will be used to support our young people and their employment endeavours.
This unemployment situation for our young people is grave, and may leave a blemish across their working lives if there is no priority or focused intervention by the Progressive Labour Party government to address it.
• Cole Simons, the MP for Smith's South (Constituency 8), is writing in his capacity as the Shadow Minister of Education and Economic Development