Schools should also teach workplace skills
-- CARICAD forum told By Abigail Butler
Guyana Chronicle
April 25, 2002

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`...deficiencies in these skills cost employers millions each year in lost productivity and errors...' - Dr. Ashwell Thomas, of Barbados

SCHOOLS and other education and training institutions will need to incorporate teaching basic workplace skills into their curriculum to ensure that students are properly equipped for the world of work, Dr. Ashwell Thomas, Group Human Resources Director of the Godard Group of Companies, Barbados, said yesterday.

He noted that though no systematic study has been undertaken of the skills needed by enterprises in the Caribbean in the 21st century, several industrialised countries have worked out the generic skills workers will need to perform well in the workplaces of the future.

Though these skills have been developed in the context of the industrialised countries, they are applicable to the Caribbean, he said, and listed several groups of skills the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) reported are required by employers.

He listed these as:

** knowing how to learn;

** reading, writing and computation;

** communication and adaptability skills;

** developmental skills;

** group effectiveness - interpersonal skills, teamwork and negotiating skills;

** influencing skills.

"It is estimated that deficiencies in these skills cost employers millions each year in lost productivity and errors and has affected employers' ability to meet strategic goals and to effectively manage change," he told a gathering at the Georgetown Club for the Sixth Annual Public-Private Sector and Civil Society Forum.

Thomas noted that compared to the past, enterprises will need to update much more regularly the skills mix of their employees to respond to the opportunities or threats created by globalisation and the rapid technological change.

Among the changes he listed are that information technology and the falling cost of telecommunications mean that it is no longer critical to site offices or companies near customers, and that virtual officers are emerging as companies are leveraging cyberspace and electronic technology to cut costs like rentals and to boost productivity.

"Employees need not just technical skills but also the skill of learning how to cope with continuous and radical change of virtual business. New forms of training, which are flexible on demand and interactive, will have to be devised for employees.

"These work pattern changes are already affecting a number of enterprises in the Caribbean. Human resource development policies and programmes must respond to these changes," he told participants from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The two-day forum was organised by the Barbados-based Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD) in collaboration with the Guyana Public Service Ministry and support from the Caribbean Development Bank.

Lead participants in the working sessions include officials of Guyana's and the region's private and public sectors, labour unions and the CARICOM Secretariat.

Thomas noted that primary and secondary education provide the basic skills of literacy, numeracy, communication and problem solving skills and develop the required attitudes, which are necessary for the workplace and that their strengthening is a key challenge for human resource development.

He recommended that the pupil-teacher ratio be improved in secondary schools and the schools' curriculum be revised to ensure that students are adequately prepared for the world of work.

He also stated that all stakeholders will need to upgrade the education level of the workforce (at all levels), and that training in enterprises should be linked to the strategic plan and be based on a training needs analysis of the enterprise.

He, however, noted that the education and training system of the region's countries were designed for a command and not a market economy and that therefore its system is inadequate for the growing needs of the market economy.

He further recommended that other CARICOM countries follow the path of Barbados, which is reportedly in the process of developing a national human resource strategy.

Before she declared the forum open, Public Service Minister, Dr. Jennifer Westford, urged participants to bear in mind that in the Caribbean, the private sector must become the engine of growth, while the government creates the enabling environment and ensures the right policies are formulated and implemented.

"...even in this high tech age engines must have a source of energy to function and perform efficiently. The sources of this vital energy are our human resources," she stated.

She noted that all around the globe, governments are yielding to the forces of globalisation and trade liberalisation and are reforming their human resource strategies and fitting them for new roles.

Within CARICOM, as in the Commonwealth, management systems are embracing the necessity for change, she said.

"This change is seen as the process through which these countries will be enabled to compete in the global political economy to increase its economic and social development and better position themselves to meet the rising expectations of a driven modernising people."

Westford stated that these changes in human resource development strategies must be about retraining and providing a demand driven service. It must be about adoption and application of new technologies to accelerate efficiency, expanded opportunities, greater satisfaction and motivation among workers, she said.

"We have to recognise that life-long learning is required if we are to keep pace with global changes. We cannot always be reactors to change but we must rise to anticipate, plan for, and then manage change," she stated.

According to the minister, in the process of strategising change management, CARICOM countries will have to develop a greater understanding of the operations of the forces of globalisation on tiny economies.

"Paradoxically, as we focus on this atmosphere of global interchange, powerful regional economic blocs are emerging, leading to the opening up of borders and heightening even greater interdependence within these regions.

"I would therefore expect that none of us is myopic or insular in our perception of these objective realities. There will be the need to enlarge knowledge and perception and to act locally while we are forced to think globally," she stated.

Westford said the forum will no doubt reassess both the assumptions and techniques of the past as the participants decide on the future.

At the forum, CARICAD Executive Director, Dr. P.I Gomes was scheduled chair the session on "Strategic Issues on Human Resources in the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME)", while President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Mr. Carville Duncan was to preside over the session on "Repositioning and Managing Change in Workers Organisations in a Changing Business Environment."

President of the Guyana Manufacturers Association, Mr. Norman McLean was to chair the session on "Private Sector Modernisation: Human Resource Dimensions".