Opposition Leader Godwin Friday says he does not believe there is a shortage of skilled construction workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as the government claims.
He noted that the International Labor Organization has said that 41.1% of young people in the country are unemployed, while the figure for the general pollution is between 35% and 40%.
“You telling me that jobs coming, we cannot find people to fill those jobs?” the opposition leader said on his weekly programme on NICE Radio on Monday.
“I don’t buy it, but if it is the case, there is a failure of planning, of development of our education system, preparing them, tooling people to meet the needs of our economy,” the opposition leader said.
“And that failure is a catastrophic failure because it means that now, people can’t take these jobs because the government says that they don’t have the skill, or the employers [say] they don’t have the skill,” Friday said.
He said the government has to find people in SVG to fill the jobs. “They have to give priority to the people here.”
Friday noted that he raised in his national address last month, the report that non-nationals were hired as construction workers at the Beaches Resort under construction at Buccament Bay.
He said this was just one example of a construction project where people were expats were doing skilled work.
“There’s talk that … we don’t have enough skilled persons,” Friday said, adding that he knows carpenters and masons who have travelled from St. Vincent to Canouan to look for work.
He said that the point of having large construction projects is to generate employment.
“So this whole idea that we don’t have skilled people to do plumbing and electrician, and carpentry and masonry, these are basic jobs that are always in the economy,” the opposition leader said.
“They fluctuate up and down. But there’s always a plan to have more construction going on, to employ people in these skilled positions. So why don’t we have those people present?”
He asked whether the government would train such people over the next two years.
“This is an essential part of our education system. And it ought to be given the importance it requires for providing the needs of the developers and also for providing jobs for our people — skilled jobs.
“So our technical and vocational education, what has happened to it over the past 21 years of this administration? All of a sudden, you realise that you need plumbers and electricians, you can’t find them here so you want to bring them in from abroad?”
He asked what is the point of generating construction jobs “if our people … have not been prepared to take these job”.
Friday asked whether people would be brought in from overseas to staff the hotel projects after their completion.
“Why are people here always, given the short end of the stick? Why we’re not being prepared to take part in our own development, in our own personal development, to create jobs and opportunities, business opportunities for our people?”
He said that the government is always involved in “crisis management, filling in space, rather than trying to plan in advance.
The opposition leader said that many young people are dropping out of secondary school before they get to Form 3 or 4.
“Where do they go? We need to retool our education systems,” Friday said.
“… the government has been talking using all kinds of language and terminology to try and characterise what has been happening in the education system over a number of years, when the reality is far different from what they’re suggesting that it is.”
Friday said that the system has to cater for “everybody, not just for the brightest and the best.
“And it has to provide the skills needed in our economy. And it also has to provide those people with the training so that they can take the jobs and the opportunities that come from these various projects.”
He said he does not use the term “education revolution” because “revolution’ can also mean going in circles.
“But the point of the matter is here now we have a situation where the government is essentially admitting that they have failed to prepare our young people and our economy, for jobs and opportunities that they said in their programme or in their rhetoric that this is what they were working towards.”
He asked how are Vincentians to benefit if they can’t perform skilled jobs on construction sites.
“So what are they going to do? Just push wheelbarrow and wield a pickaxe? That is really disrespecting, and failing our people. It’s failing to plan. It’s reacting, reacting, reacting, always in crisis mode,” the opposition leader said.
“You set the house on fire and bring the water hose. And you say, ‘Look, I’m the hero, because I put it out’ when, in fact, you should be planning to avoid all of these crises, by planning in advance.