With its Future of Cayman forum coming up, the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce is continuing its efforts to keep up momentum in the area of training and workplace development.
“We take this issue extremely seriously, as our members are continuously telling us that one of the biggest challenges they have is recruiting and retaining qualified staff so they can remain competitive,” says Chamber CEO Wil Pineau.
“We need to nurture talent. When we hold this forum in November, one of the five pillars of economic development we have identified and will be discussing is talent development.”
He notes that since the 1980s a number of surveys have been conducted regarding educational needs in Cayman’s workforce covering such aspects as what employers are looking for and what skills are needed.
“The surveys show that students who graduate are not adequately prepared for the world of work,” says Pineau.
This challenge is now being tackled on a number of fronts, some of which have been garnering attention of late.
Cayman’s revamped education system has introduced a mandatory Year 12 students in government schools. Kicking off this year, it gives these students an opportunity, as recently explained by education Minister Rolston Anglin, to demonstrate learning in different ways.
The Passport 2 Success programme, a joint effort of the Ministry of Education and the private sector, has proven successful as well and launched its second intake of 24 students in late September. The free, eight-week programme is designed to help young Caymanians who have recently graduated high school but who have not yet found suitable employment to improve their workplace skills.
These initiatives, targeting young people before they enter the workforce, offer a welcome complement to the ongoing efforts the Chamber has been making to build workplace skills.
“Talent is such an important area of emphasis,” says Pineau.
“We need to develop strategies to ensure the workforce maintains its world class standard no matter what. They have the skills to compete on the international level.”
While the Chamber is a business organisation, it certainly places a lot of focus on youth. The Chamber sponsors graduation awards in almost all the schools and colleges in Cayman to recognise academic achievement and excellence.
“We need to recognise these students,” emphasises Pineau.
At the same time, emphasis is placed on the world beyond school.
The Mentoring Cayman programme is one such effort, which each year partners 50 students with mentors.
“These mentors are high-profile members of the business community and in government,” says Pineau.
“It offers an amazing opportunity for these mentors to impart their knowledge and skills and since 2003 and we have matched up more than 500 people.”
Young people’s exposure to the workforce is also supported through career awareness visits since the 1980s.
“In one day, we take high school students to experience a cross-section of different careers, so they get a well-rounded look at the jobs that are out there,” says Pineau.
In addition, for the past 15 years the Chamber has organised what has become the Careers, Education, Training and Jobs Expo. On the first day, students and parents are invited to the expo so they can learn about careers. The next day the expo is opened up to job seekers and the general public so they can gain insight into the employment market and available training programmes.
“On one hand, the expo tells people about available career paths,” says Pineau.
“But the expo also shows those who attend about how to maintain an education.”
The Chamber’s complementary scholarship guide provides a comprehensive list of available scholarships, which it is now in the process of taking online.
“Now we have more young Caymanians returning to school, thanks to the companies that have had the foresight to invest in education,” says Pineau.
“The public sector gives millions to Caymanian students, it benefits the businesses and it also benefits the community. If you can send these young people overseas to get educated, it will help us achieve our key strategy which is gaining skills and the right attitude to succeed and access to higher learning.”
He notes the Chamber also supports the relationship between business and education through its partnership with Junior Achievement, which started in 1997.
“It teaches students important things like how to start a business, managing finances, and ethics in business,” says Pineau.
“Ethics in particular, I think, is a topic that is more and more important and we must teach our students these principles.”
Pineau is a firm believer in lifelong learning, which he deems essential for both individual development and society at large.
“Learning does not stop when you get a degree,” he says.
“The world is full of opportunity but only for those who are willing to grasp it. The world presents an ever-changing environment and you must be willing to evolve to meet its demands.”
Pineau notes the Chamber’s Professional Development and Training Centre, established in 1995, offers many avenues for lifelong learning, including preparatory courses to assist people pursuing professional designations.
Other courses are specifically designed to help local businesses succeed by building specific skills in their employees.
“They cover a wide variety of areas, including customer service, sales, accounting, computer skills, leadership development, management and office administration,” he says.
“The courses also offer writing, and specifically business writing and presentation skills, business continuity. We also do motivational training to get business owners and staff thinking outside the box.”
In 2010 alone, says Pineau, the Chamber put on 75 different programmes and will have trained hundreds of people in the business community and government.
“There is a difference between training and higher education, both of which have great merits,” says Pineau.
“But training gives you a skill or improves a skill that has immediate impact on the business. Staff gain hard skills that can be translated directly into the workplace.”
Pineau notes that since the Chamber is a not-for-profit organisation, it strives to deliver its courses as affordably as possible.
“It can be quite costly to hire a trainer, yet our courses are affordable and offer a high level of quality,” he says.
However the Chamber’s efforts are not solely focused on the hard skills that training offers. Participants in its newly minted Leadership Cayman programme are there to learn about leadership and about the community in which they live and work.
“The aim is to break down the silos between industries and people,” he explains. The course’s ultimate objective is to produce well-rounded, highly informed graduates with a comprehensive understanding of Cayman’s history, culture and business landscape.
And while it may be true that in general, the content of what’s being learned is what matters most, a positive learning environment is also a good thing.
The Chamber’s new home in Governor’s Square is therefore not only being well received due to its spacious new layout, but also for providing opportunities to serve as a small business incubator.
“Now we have a training facility that can accommodate 50 people in theatre format, it allows us to provide much better learning experiences too,” says Pineau.