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(CNS Business): Education Minister Rolston Anglin has called for “social change” when it comes to accepting the legitimacy and gainful-employment possibilities of a variety of trades. The Cayman Islands Further Education Centre – the new government Year 12 programme – now offers vocational courses but, the minister said, the community still needs to undergo an attitude change toward learning trade skills. “What are we going to do differently to get parental buy-in?” Anglin asked. “Through parents encouraging their young people and seeing these qualifications as worthwhile, that is crucially important.” The ministry's push to promote the value of learning a trade is being reinforced by the economic slowdown, which Anglin said may be one of the greatest motivators to shifting attitudes toward seeking jobs in the trades.
Over the years, as Cayman has become a financial centre and attracted the requisite lawyers and accountants, the population began moving away from traditional skills. “When you look at our work force, you see that 25, 30 years ago, we had a lot of Caymanian skilled masons whereas that is not the case today. We do need to invest in those areas,” Anglin pointed out.
“That’s what we’re doing in TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) at the moment and where we are headed.”
But people need to “buy in” to the importance of re-establishing a vocational foundation, Anglin said, explaining that Cayman was built on the trades. “Cayman was a proud country when it came to these qualifications; an island this small to be a world-renowned shipbuilding centre tells you the type of skilled tradesmen that we had.
“Fast forward to today where we have such a shortage in the skilled trades is a real indictment on our society and our community. We have to accept collectively that as a community we have not invested and really pushed and put the trades in the proper context.”
The success of the last four decades has come at the cost of the vocational capital of the country, but there was good reason for the decline, he said, citing his own upbringing as an example.
“My mother was a domestic helper; once tourism came into the economy and expanded, she naturally transitioned into working in the hotels, condos and private homes, cleaning. My father went to sea, came home and became a painter. Neither of them, quite rightly, wanted me to be a painter or a domestic helper. They wanted better for me.
“In Cayman’s ambitious drive to better itself generation after generation, unfortunately the trades got pushed aside and, here’s where we really fell down, they were stigmatized as inferior, as not good enough.”
However, lost in that push was an appreciation for the financial benefits and advancement potential of jobs such as those in the restaurant sector. “(People didn’t) appreciate how much a very good waiter or waitress makes, saying , ‘I don’t want my son or daughter to be serving tables,’ without recognizing how much a maître d’ makes and how prestigious a career that is in every other part of the world,” Anglin explained.
The worldwide economic struggles over the last few years only serve to highlight the necessity to encourage young people entering the work force to consider a career in a skilled trade.
“I’m proud to have been part of Cayman’s ambitious drive for all of us to be better and do better as a small community. But we need to now really be serious about reconnecting with the trades and getting our young people re-engaged in the trades,” he said.
Anglin pointed to the reaction that CIFEC has received from parents as evidence that the shift in attitude has begun. “As minister, I have not gotten any complaints about CIFEC. Parents love CIFEC. We had our teething problems, like at the start of any programme, but those were operational; it wasn’t anything about the programming.
“Parents absolutely love the idea that we’re getting an introduction of TVET before our children leave compulsory education. And that is answering a call that has been in place for about 30 years by the community.”
Clive Baker, senior policy advisor with the Ministry of Education, added that the courses have to meet the employment needs of the community. “Whatever programmes we offer have to be responsive to the job market and cater to student interest,” he said, explaining that the idea is to divert Cayman students to areas where there will be employment.
Ironically, the economic slowdown may be one of the greatest motivators to shifting attitudes toward seeking jobs in the trades, Anglin pointed out. “The silver lining behind the dark cloud that is the recession is that Caymanians are more open to going into other areas, more now than ever before. You hear young people saying I don’t need to get a job in a bank or an office. I am willing to do X, Y and Z. And that is how society should work.
“Society should be about people never seeing any one job as the end of life but the beginning. We should be saying: Why shouldn’t our young persons start out as a waiter or waitress but end up being the food and beverage manager? Or opening their own restaurant because they’ve learned the industry inside and out and now is a model entrepreneur?
“I’m not that old but I’ve been around long enough to understand that creating this sort of change is a challenge, but we have to start; we’ve talked about it too long and we really, really have to push this agenda forward.”
Related article: Building a Cayman workforce
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