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Institute is a loss still keenly felt

Bermudian youths must have better technical training opportunities to help “fix our broken society”, community leaders have claimed.

Sixty years have passed since the opening of the Bermuda Technical Institute, which offered high-calibre technical training to males aged 12 to 17.

Although its students were considered less academically gifted, many of the Tech’s 600-plus graduates went on to pursue higher education. However, in 1972 the BTI closed its doors for good, and two years later it was absorbed into the new Bermuda College.

To this day, the island’s capacity for technical education has remained a subject of contentious debate, with its loss felt as strongly today as ever.

The Mincy Report in 2009 revealed that more than half of young black males drop out of high school early.

This can leave them with limited job opportunities, fostering discontent which can lead to antisocial and criminal behaviour, according to Progressive Labour Party MP Michael Weeks.

Michael Stowe, who runs the Bermuda Technical Training Centre from his home in Warwick, called it “absolutely critical” to reintroduce a version of the institute to the island.

“We’re filling a rather huge gap, in terms of young Bermudians who are trained and qualified for various technical careers,” he said.

Mr Stowe’s centre opened in 2009, and caters primarily to 15- to 19-year-olds who have difficulty in a regular high school.

Among the programmes on offer are small engine repair, electronics, small business management and computers.

“Many of our young people are not on a path to become a professional, however there is a compelling need for them to have skills that are needed,” Mr Stowe said.

Mr Stowe called the BTI “an excellent institution”, adding that the introduction of a similar large-scale institution would help with unemployment and offer young people a viable career direction.

“We always tell our students that the best career will always go to the person who knows how to do something,” he said.

Former United Bermuda Party MP Charlie Swan, who runs his own plumbing business and whose father Charles attended the institute, said the BTI was “sorely missed”.

“The technical training we have now is nothing like the institute. It’s not as formalised, and we’re sending young people away to get the training,” he said. Mr Swan added that the National Training Board had established “adequate” links with technology institutes in North America, although the lack of a BTI equivalent made the process more tenuous.

“But it’s not too bad. If a young person wants to go into plumbing, there is a clear pathway,” he said, adding that a vibrant economy in Bermuda would also maximise training opportunities for youths entering the working world.

Mr Weeks said that the BTI “must be consistently praised for its contributions to the fabric of our society”.

As the Minister of Community Development during the PLP’s last administration, Mr Weeks attempted to bring Job Corps, a training and vocational programme for young people in the United States, to Bermuda.

He suggested that the reintroduction of a BTI-type establishment, or the implementation of Job Corps, would specifically help young black males.

“Our social ills directly correlate to the disenfranchisement of our young men. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to this fact,” he said.

“Statistically, those who fail to graduate from senior school are the ones jamming our prisons.

“Crime is happening in broad daylight; this is the result of a broken society.

“It’s time to fix it. Revitalise the technical institute; give our men something to aspire to and be proud of.”

Mr Weeks also stressed that “traditional methods of study are not for everyone”, and suggested that the educational system needed to better embrace those ready to give up on mainstream academia.

“Not every child is going to be a doctor, lawyer or actuary. But they might be the best carpenter, plumber, motor mechanic or electrician that Bermuda has ever seen,” he said.

“But this will only happen if we provide the right educational opportunities.”

A Department of Education spokeswoman said that technical training opportunities in Bermuda are available to students initially through the National Certificate for Construction Education and Research programme.

They can follow this with a 12-week work placement in the Career Pathways programme, learning a trade such as motor mechanics, construction and plumbing, before taking additional classes in their final school year (S4).

The spokeswoman added that Career Pathways has expanded its programme down to the middle school level via workshops and job readiness sessions.

Whitney Institute has started offering the Pulse initiative (Providing Unique Learning through Structured Experiences), which combines career pathways, academics and community development. Meanwhile, for the 2016-17 academic year, Berkeley Institute and CedarBridge Academy will roll out the Applied Technology Certificate programme — in which senior students can enrol in classes at Bermuda College two or three days a week, in preparation for a technical career.

<p>A brief history</p>

After opening in 1956, the Bermuda Technical Institute began offering hands-on training to male students aged 12 to 17.

Although its students were thought to be less academically gifted, the high school’s high-calibre technical training allowed them to flourish.

Bermuda’s first integrated school, “the Tech” produced more than 600 graduates, many of whom went on to pursue higher education.

Given its success in steering young men along the right path, the institute’s reputation began to blossom in the community.

A Royal Gazette editorial on September 14, 1963 read: “Although its objectives were probably deliberately misunderstood by many people in the initial stages, there is no doubt now that the Technical Institute is a permanent and most valuable fixture in our educational system.”

But just 16 years after opening, the BTI ceased operations and was later incorporated into the new Bermuda College. In 1997, the institute’s entire structure, 60 per cent of which was built by students as part of their education, was demolished to make way for the National Stadium complex at Prospect.