Change is afoot at Cayman’s largest institute of higher learning.
With a new president, and extensive renovations already well underway, fresh winds of optimism are blowing across the University College of the Cayman Islands’ newly refurbished central quadrangle.
What is happening at the college is a reflection of the future of Cayman itself. The country needs skilled workers, and current immigration considerations are making it increasingly clear that there’s no source like home to take the place of workers from such places as Canada, Jamaica, Honduras and the Philippines.
A recent report remarks that the Chief of the Immigration Department has pointed out that immigration legislation known as the Rollover Policy could have adverse drastic effects if heightened training of local talent to fill the gap left by the departure of foreign workers is not undertaken immediately.
And that’s where the new and improved UCCI is poised to play a big role.
It’s not that TVET doesn’t exist on-Island.
A lot of workers have made a decent career in the trades through on-the-job training without setting foot in a classroom.
UCCI has served many more. Born in 1985 out of the amalgamation Cayman’s Hotel Training School, the Marine & Trade Training School and the Secretarial/Business Studies Section of the Sixth Form of the Cayman Islands High School, UCCI has a long-standing tradition of technical training.
Current offerings include instruction in construction, plumbing, electrical, mechanical, hospitality, accounting and computer technology.
But a draft Technical and Vocational framework for the Cayman Islands, put together in September by UCCI staff and Vaughan Carter of the Ministry of Education, Training, Employment, Youth Sports and Culture, found that the TVET training system has not had the impact on the workforce it could have.
And the school has been facing another lingering problem: the resulting TVET certification is not recognized internationally.
‘As an associate member of CARICOM, Cayman is in need of adopting a strategy that would allow for the easy transfer of workers within the region,’ said UCCI President Hassan Syed.
‘At the same time we would like to recognize those people in society who have attained considerable trade skills without certification by figuring out a way to quantify their existing work experience.’
The task may not be as difficult as it might seem. CARICOM has an exiting framework which is itself based on a TVET model developed by UNESCO and the International Labour Organization.
‘This five-level model takes students straight from high school to professional qualification,’ said Mr. Syed.
‘It clearly outlines levels of knowledge and the kinds of skills people should be demonstrating at every level.’
And this focus on TVET has the full support of the Cayman Islands Government, in particular the Ministry of Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports and Culture.
Both the Ministry’s Education and Employment Relations Departments have been actively assessing Cayman’s employment needs in order to inform how TVET will be structured.
Furthermore, the Schools’ Inspectorate, the National Curriculum Review Team and the Sunrise Centre have all been involved in working toward a consensus on where Cayman’s priorities lie.
UCCI signed an agreement with Jamaica’s HEART national technical training organization in November, which is paving the way for collaboration between the two countries as well as providing Cayman with some initial guidance.
Education Minister Alden McLaughlin has said that a similar national training agency likely lies in Cayman’s future as well, although the potential remit and legislative framework to make it happen may take some time to materialize.
In the meantime, Mr. Syed hopes that taking a cue from HEART will allow UCCI students to come away with portable internationally recognized qualifications that will also put Cayman in a position to join international trades associations.
‘For instance, from this January on, our legal secretary programme will be recognized by ILEX – the British Institute of Legal Executives,’ he says.
UCCI has responded to the recommendations of law firms by providing an internationally portable yet Cayman-specific training programme.
‘That means that people trained here will gain knowledge about the issues that are particularly important in a Cayman work environment. At the same time, they will be able to work in the UK. That’s going to help make the programme more attractive to students and help us gain international recognition.’
The college has also formed a partnership with City & Guild to provide electrician certification that is recognized in the United States.
And Mr. Syed says academic students are not going to lose out on this renewed attention to developing UCCI’s TVET offerings.
‘This will always be an institution that values the academic side of education very highly. But we recognize that as a response to economies of scale, Cayman we can’t have separate schools for academic and technical learning at the present time,’ he said.
‘It’s just easier, and makes more sense, to offer applied knowledge study streams here at UCCI when we can utilize pre-existing infrastructure like this campus,’ he said.
There’s an added bonus for students who might have been shuffled into technical streams under the previous education system but were still interested in academics.
Students who attain a 3.0 in a certificate programme are eligible to enter an academic stream to pursue an associate’s degree.
This option can be used as a stepping stone into a new career, or to gain the academic credentials often required to secure a management position.
UCCI is also interested in reaching out to the broader Cayman community in its efforts to expand the opportunities TVET brings.
The school is offering interested private high schools the use of its workshop facilities, and is in talks with the government high schools to reach a similar arrangement.
‘Continuity is essential, and if someone demonstrates an interest in high school we want to encourage that as much as possible,’ says Mr. Syed.
‘We are also working with contractors and trade associations to find out what we can do to help their members keep up their training.’
Aside from continuing TVET training, the college will also expand its professional and continuing education services. A new executive training faculty has been established to handle much-needed management skills training courses for government and business staff.
It’s that forward kind of thinking which underpins a lot of the college’s new initiatives and which will likely ensure their continued success for many years to come.