Teach tech and island will flourish
Bermuda holds the power to flourish as a global centre of technology in the industry of its choosing, a leading British technical education advocate declared yesterday.
Alumni of the Bermuda Technical Institute, which shut in 1972, have brought one of the world's top proponents of science and technology to the island to spread the word.
Tom Ilube holds a place in the upper ranks of PowerList, the UK's roster of its most powerful men and women of African and Caribbean descent.
Yesterday, Mr Ilube held a discussion with the Bermuda Technical Institute Association as well as the Construction Association of Bermuda.
This week, he will share his expertise with John Rankin, the Governor, as well as Cabinet ministers, the Chamber of Commerce, the Bermuda College and local schools.
“When you become an expert in, say, the application of artificial intelligence in the reinsurance industry, then you find people wanting to come and be a part of it,” Mr Ilube said. “You need that rallying vision to start off.
“There are places where Bermuda has become an absolute world centre of excellence, such as reinsurance.
“With a lot of the direction that things are going and technology is going, location does not matter the way it used to. Size does not matter in this game. Bermuda can decide to make it happen.”
Visiting for the first time, Mr Ilube noted the island's work in building an up-to-date regulatory framework for the emerging industry of digital business.
He said: “Fintech is huge. There's a lot of money and brain power going into it. But it works best when you're building on top of existing capabilities.
“The fact that Bermuda is strong in financial services means that can work well, and it's an exciting proposition. The challenge is bringing people into it.”
Rick Richardson, chairman of the BTIA, said boosting technical education would address the shortage of tradesmen and engineers, as well as providing skills for a “growing population of at-risk young men”.
Conversations on reviving technical education are much the same the world over, Mr Ilube said.
“There are cultures like Germany that value the technical route. But certainly in the UK and around the world from the United States to Sweden, over and over again, it's ‘we used to be good at technical education, now it's all academic, and how do we get the excitement back in the technical side'.
“The common theme is, let's not try to go back and replicate what we had in the past. Let's think hard about the skills that our nation is going to need over the next 20 to 30 years, and create the institutions that will develop it.”
Mr Ilube pointed to Britain's university technical colleges — created out of a partnership between secondary schools, universities and industry partners.
The West Midlands UTC specialises in construction, with a curriculum ranging from new materials, future architecture and modelling buildings with virtual reality.
“At one level, you think of someone laying bricks, but at another level they're looking at what the world will look like in ten to 20 years,” Mr Ilube said.
“It's incredibly exciting for young people to look at robotics and ask whether their job will be as a bricklayer, or programming the robot that lays the bricks.”
IT, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence have “become a part of every strand” of a technical education, he said.
Mr Ilube, who has moved from the industry side to philanthropic ventures, founded the African Gifted Foundation, which in 2016 launched an all-girls science and technology school in Ghana.
He was the chairman of the Ada College, which opened the same year in Britain, named after Ada Lovelace — a 19th-century mathematician often cited as the world's first computer programmer.
“We implemented what we called modern apprenticeships, getting major employers in industry directly involved,” Mr Ilube said.
“We're not trying to tell people not to take the academic route, but to give students a choice that looks just as exciting as the academic route.”
He added: “Now major companies are trying to get our apprentices. It's all about how you bring it together at the start.”
Yesterday's meeting at the Fairmont Southampton hotel enabled Mr Ilube to share the apprenticeship model with members of the construction association, as well as BTIA members.
Mr Richardson said: “I've been following Tom's work for a couple of years; he is an amazing speaker.
“We had a great round-table discussion on the schools he's involved in and what we share in common with other jurisdictions that are trying to move education with technology to the fore. That's what we are trying to advocate.”
He added: “It's important to us that the model he talks about has the academics and the trades at the same time. That's what we had at the Technical Institute.”