KINGSTON, Jamaica – Hundreds of hopeful job applicants flocked the offices of the Jamaica Ministry of Labour and Social Security Tuesday as they tried their luck at landing one of the 450 construction jobs that will be offered by employers from Canada later this month.
But of those who turned up, more than half were uncertified and some illiterate, a recurring problem the ministry faces each year.
Mr. Leahcim Semaj, chief executive officer at Job Bank, said this recurring problem showed that many of the nation’s men were not seeing the importance of education.
“Education makes you trainable, that’s all it does; training makes you employable,” Mr. Semaj said. “So, a lot of these people were never educated to begin with. That is why they are into construction but, because they lack education, they also lack trainability.”
He added: “When they hear construction work, they assume it is just muscle and brute force. That’s their view of construction work and it is still believed by many people that everybody can do construction work, not realising that it evolves with modern systems, with the use of technology, where literacy comes first.”
Of the 1,400 applicants who visited the offices of the Ministry on East Street since Sunday, the majority were men.
Armed with large envelopes with important documents, such as their passport, certification – the few that had, they formed long lines waiting patiently at the meeting room to be called in by Ministry personnel who were conducting the interviews.
At one point the men, ages 21 to 40 years, threatened to cause a brawl as they became impatient. However the security guard at the door quickly restored calm.
Neville Broughton, who looked more than 40 years old, was one of the frustrated men who had flown directly from Cayman to try his luck.
“Things getting slow in Cayman. A nuff construction workers over there. So, this is an opportunity I would like to grab,” he told The Gleaner. Mr. Broughton said he had more than 30 years experience in the field.
Meanwhile, 28-year-old Marlon Miller was confident he would be placed.
“I think I will get through because I have certification,” he said as he held up his documents proudly.
Miller said he has been out of work for some three months.
However Labour Minister Pearnel Charles was very blunt with the job aspirants.
“We want welders, we want steel fixers, pipe fitters, crane operators, I want workers in general,” Mr. Charles said. “You have some problems so let’s talk about it. If you get arrested and you were fingerprinted, you have a problem. If you can’t read well, you have a problem.
Afterwards, he told The Gleaner the high level of illiteracy was a problem.
“It is very bad. We have a number of people who have arrived here, they are very skilled but they are not literate,” he said.
Mr. Charles said he would be addressing the problem by working with HEART/NTA.
“We are making plans with HEART Trust and with other institutions to see if we can upgrade the literacy part of them so they can fit in and then they can be certified,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jacqueline Coke-Lloyd, executive director of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation, recommended that, to address the problem, the government should introduce vocational training at the secondary level.
“So that, not only do you get an academic certification but you also get vocational certification when you leave secondary school….,’ she said. The Labour Ministry has sent some 8,075 workers on the Overseas Employment Programme to the United States and Canada since the start of the year. Last year, 14,646 went on the programme. Of this number, 11,502 were males.