A group of students at the University College of the Cayman Islands is learning firsthand the benefits of working as they study.
Under the UCCI certificate programme, six specialties are offered, which include class time and work experience.
The college offers one-year certificate courses in accounting, computer applications, computer technology, construction technology, electrical technology and hospitality studies.
Mary Anne Cannon, work placement coordinator, explained the advantages for the students.
‘I think the certificate programme is one of the best kept secrets here at the college. We have students that get out of high school and are not really clear about what they want to do.
‘The majority of students are going into a college environment for the first time and deciding what they want to do.
‘The certificate programme gives them the ability to go to school and work,’ she said.
The students spend three days a week in school and two days at work. More than 55 businesses and organisations are taking part in the programme.
‘We call them our partners in education. Just as an example of how supportive they are and how committed to the programme, one of our students was struggling with accounting.
‘Her boss emailed me to ask how he could help. He found out about the coursework she was weak in and he worked with her to help her understand some of the concepts she was learning,’ Ms Cannon said.
The employers take a great interest in the students..
‘Merrill Lynch and Ernst & Young all want to know how the students are doing and how they can make the work environment more effective for the students,’ she said.
The interest seems to be paying off because the students express enthusiasm and commitment to the programme.
‘The students are energetic, they’re motivated, they’re eager to learn,’ Ms Cannon said.
The college is there to help whenever necessary, she said.
‘Some students are struggling with math, for example. To overcome that, the math department has put on a math lab every day after school or sometimes during the school day. Students can get basically individual attention and tutoring.
‘This is what the school has put in place so no student has to fail out. It’s a small school and it’s like a family,’ Ms Cannon said.
She is hoping also to encourage an older segment of society to take advantage of the programme.
‘There is a big market out there that hasn’t discovered the certificate programme – people who are older and want to go back to school to do a second career.
‘It’s one year, quick paced and you are out in the work field so you don’t lose the experience of being with colleagues. But, you also learn practical skills in the classroom,’ she said.
Ms Cannon keeps track of al the students throughout their work experience.
‘Every month I visit the work places. I see how the students are doing both professionally and personally. I check on their work ethic, if they are well-dressed and have a professional attitude. I look at their work skills and if they are applying skills they learned in the classroom to the real world of work,’ she said.
This year’s class comprises 12 students in hospitality, 17 in computer technology, seven in electrical technology, nine in construction technology, 17 in accounting and 16 in computer applications.
For more information about the certificate programme or to apply for September admission, call UCCI at 949-9580.
Studying the students
Paige Smyth, 16, finished her GCSEs at St. Ignatius and is taking a certificate course in accounting.
‘I didn’t know if I really wanted to do accounting but I got a scholarship through KPMG so I decided to do a certificate before going on to do an associate degree,’ she said.
Paige plans to remain at the college to do her associate then go off-island, perhaps to Florida International University or the University of Miami, to study for her bachelor’s degree.
Meanwhile, she is learning on the job as well as at school.
‘The people at work (KPMG) are very, very nice and understanding and they helped me with any problems I had.
‘I started by collecting information for the senior accountants to use for audits. Now I’m doing internal accounting, helping to set up clients for auditing,’ Paige said.
Her busy schedule has proved challenging.
‘It’s good, but it’s hard, too. Going to school and going to work is a lot different for me.
‘It’s a really good programme and a lot different from being in high school. There you are pampered, you are told what to do. Being here opens you up and prepares you for university. You do things on your own,’ she said.
Lynn Watson-Robinson, financial controller at KPMG, has been impressed by Paige.
‘Paige is doing excellently. She is a very conscientious individual and for her age exercises great judgment,’ she said.
Mrs. Watson-Robinson also worked with Jeremy Ebanks and said both students exhibited a skill level much higher than she expected.
‘I’m very impressed with both of them and that speaks well of the programme,’ she said.
Terri Whittaker, 18, is taking a certificate in hospitality studies and worked at the Department of Tourism.
She plans to pursue an associate degree in multimedia and web design and then a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
Terri worked in the marketing department at DoT and helped to plan visits for hotel inspectors, which involved putting together menus for meals, setting up tours of various attractions and generally making lots of phone calls, she explained.
Terri also helped to organise the Cayman Jazz Fest, held in December 2005.
That job involved site visits to ensure the stage and tents were properly set up and coordinating the local bands.
‘During the performance, I had to stand by the door to seat VIPs. They said I should smile and be nice,’ she said.
Her work placement has had immediate benefits.
‘I learned to be a lot friendlier. I had a bad attitude before, I didn’t smile a lot, I kept to myself and was quiet,’ she said.
Patrice Donalds, tourism training and development coordinator at DoT, supervised Terri.
‘Terri got her feet wet with coordination activities for Jazz Fest 2005. As a result, Terri has a whole new perspective and respect for the varied and challenging tasks that event planning requires.
‘The marketing team was impressed with how well Terri performed the tasks assigned and was pleased that she completed them extremely well,’ she said.
LaToya Holness, 18, is studying computer applications for her certificate.
She has always enjoyed working with computers and is using her skills at the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority.
‘I am creating ID cards on the computer and have created a manual for using a scanner. They wanted a much easier one for people to use.
‘People don’t even use the one that came with the scanner; they use mine. I’m very proud of that.
‘I’ve also learned to make a cross straight circuit which can be used to connect a phone to the wall and to connect the computer to the internet. I do a little bit of everything there,’ she said.
LaToya has found the whole experience worthwhile.
‘I thought being at work and at school would be very hectic but it wasn’t like that. I really enjoyed it.
‘I’m looking forward to next year at CIMA. My supervisor said I have a great opportunity to work there,’ she said.
Information systems manager Rodney Ebanks spoke of LaToya’s efforts at CIMA.
‘Latoya came to us with very useful information technology knowledge. We found her to be a valuable resource in assisting us with various projects within our IT unit.
‘I was quite impressed with her level of professionalism, not just in getting the job done, but also in taking the initiative to come and ask what else she could assist with whenever she completed what was assigned. It was a very successful match for us. Our unit would be happy to have her back,’ he said.
CIMA human resources manager Deborah Musson finds the certificate programme worthwhile.
‘We are very happy with the UCCI internship programme. The placements help us to understand what resources are potentially out there, what the local talent pool is like and the type of skills they are developing. At the same time we can help the college by giving feedback on what skills and qualities we need, as members of the marketplace,’ she said.
Eventually, Latoya plans to attend the New England Institute of Technology to study computer designing or computer systems.
Vana Welds, 17, wants to be an architect and is studying construction technology at the college.
She has been working at Kariba Architecture since January.
‘In our class, we learn how to build things, how they are designed and then we go into the workshop for hands-on experience,’ she said.
Vana’s work at Kariba builds on that experience.
‘I’ve been able to design a lady’s house, putting in additions for her granddaughter who is blind.
‘Now I’m designing a boat deck. Everyone in the office works together. First I started by filing, then two weeks later I started learning the programmes. I was like an apprentice.
‘Everything I learned in school, I could use in the office,’ she said.
‘The best part has been basically just getting to understand how things work in my field – how a door is built, the different materials, the different grains in wood. It is preparing me for when I go abroad,’ she said.
Architect Monica Guzman is one of Vana’s supervisors at Kariba.
‘She’s doing well. She’s progressed and understood many concepts working here. Vana is using software that most architecture offices use.
‘I think the programme is very good and I believe it is necessary for them to do it. When you’re just finishing school you don’t have a vision of the real world yet,’ she said.
Her only criticism is that she doesn’t think two days a week is enough time.
Vana hopes to continue her studies at the New England Institute of Technology.
Tyrell Cuffy, 17, is in the electrical technology programme. He has already applied to Radford University in Virginia to study electrical engineering.
He has been working at Alba Electrical Contractors since January.
‘What they are teaching us at school, they are teaching us at the work place. They are helping us to get more experience.
‘At the construction site, we are working on laying foundation, and pipes and wires. When the building is nearer to being finished, we will install lights, switches and receptacles,’ Tyrell said.
He sees the advantages of the programme for later in life.
‘It will help us in the future, if we want to apply for work.
‘They treat me the same as any other employee. I am getting lots more practical experience,’ he said.
Alison O’Donohue, human resources manager at Alba, agrees with his assessment.
‘It’s a good all-round introduction into the work place. He completes time sheets and signs in and out of site.
‘His work ethic is good. He seems interested in what he is learning and happy to be learning.
‘Based on his progression, once he completes his studies, he will be offered a permanent position at Alba,’ she said.
Marlon Bryan, 19, is studying computer technology and has been working at Creative Technology since November.
‘I love computer work. I’m taking a course in computer repair. I’m trying to do it now so I can understand it myself,’ he said.
On the job, he is learning to install audio-visual home entertainment systems.
‘The technician is showing me how to fix DVD players and TVs. At school I’m learning computer technology and at work I’m learning a bit about electronics,’ Marlon said.
He is also learning important life lessons.
‘My boss is continually giving me advice, encouraging advice to improve my social skills. He tells me to read books, especially history to get a clear understanding of life today compared to the past.
‘Every day I go in, I learn something new,’ Marlon said.
After completing his certificate, Marlon wants to study for an associate degree in computer technology at UCCI and then go overseas for an advanced degree. He wants to come back to Cayman to work.
Lloyd Ramsaran, one of the owners of Creative Technology, said the programme offers students a good chance to get an idea of the working environment.
‘It gets them out there and they get a feel for things; we can point them in the right direction,’ he said.
Mr. Ramsaran said his company will continue to be involved with the programme.
‘We’ll be happy to work with youngsters. It’s a good environment for them. What we do is not offered across the board in Cayman,’ he said.