In the current economic climate, many stores have been forced to close their doors.
That was the case for Island Companies’ four souvenir shops, which could have exacerbated the unemployment issue in the Cayman Islands.
But rather than let their 19 Caymanian staff go, Island Companies instead offered an unprecedented 12-week retraining course designed to assist the staff in getting jobs in other areas of the company including jewellery and watches. Those on training were paid their wages plus usual commission to attend.
Brenda Miller, general manager of human resources, said that in the end 12 of the 19 staff completed the scheme to conclusion, with the remaining seven opting for a severance package. They also had the option to try the training for 45 days and still receive severance.
“The board of directors made the decision to close our souvenir division, which basically has a smaller price point and requires a high volume of souvenirs sold to pay the rent. We continued for years hoping that the port would be built and things were going to change, but they never did so we could not sustain it, as much as we tried.
“The stores had historically been staffed with Caymanians and permanent residents only. So rather than laying them off we decided to make an investment in training them in jewellery and watch sales, our core business,” Ms Miller said.
She said the souvenir stores had also served as a training ground for school leavers and those wanting to interact with customers and increase their confidence. However, the higher-end sales required an extended skill set.
Alexandre Tabacoff, the company’s chief executive officer, was enthusiastic about the “fantastic success” of the scheme.
“Based on this success, my commitment for next year is to do more training for young Caymanians in order that they experience what it means to become a professional sales associate. I want to do more training; we will see what best suits our needs and maybe we will create a shorter version.
“The idea is to bring new people into our company. We offer everybody vendor training if they are here with us, which is normal practice. I would like to make a selection of new candidates and after that train them, to teach them the profession,” said Mr. Tabacoff, who said that exact details were to be decided.
The National Workforce Development agency, responsible for the workforce, and the Department of Labour and Pensions, which is responsible for the workplace including labour compliance, inspection and investigation, both praised the scheme.
Mario Ebanks of the Department of Labour and Pensions, said that it was a good move in terms of “workplace excellence”.
“Island Companies has set up competency plans for each job, looked at who they have in the company and conducted training according to the skill needs.
“It is a very healthy thing to do. If we can train and retrain our people and give them skills it will make them more engaged, more productive and translate to a more tranquil workplace and a more productive and profitable organisation.”
Yoshneck Mutomba of the development agency said that during the last two years Island Companies had given the agency full access to their training materials, based around a system called Gold Star.
“It is graded to acceptable international standards. It is a programme which will give the customer service people skills which are not just acceptable in the Cayman Islands, but all over the world. The standards are very high and the skills that are gained are very portable.
“For me human capital development is something that obviously will bring the general skill levels in the country to the level of global competitors. It can give the country an edge over other jurisdictions, especially in these very specialised areas where you have to be able to explain about the watches. So you get the technical selling skills plus customer service skills. It is good for the company, good for the country and good for human capital development,” he said.
Ms Miller praised the training manager Sonya Gregory for the “challenging and fun” training programme, which engaged trainees through puzzles, skits and games. All 12 successful trainees are now assigned to stores, she said.