The unemployment rate among Caymanians has almost doubled since 2007, with nearly 2,000 islanders now out of work.
Prior to the 2008 financial crisis the number of unemployed locals had hovered around five per cent. There were 1,059 Caymanians out of work, at the time of the 2007 Labour Force Survey.
Statistics released last month, show that number had increased significantly to 1,925 by 2012.
The jobs boom that accompanied an extensive rebuilding programme in the wake of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 appears to have tailed off, while the global economic meltdown has also been blamed for the rise in unemployment.
Getting Caymanians back to work has been a key theme for almost every political candidate in the build up to the election.
The United Democratic Party is proposing an emergency jobs plan called “Cayman Works” to put unemployed islanders to work on various projects.
Walling Whittaker, a UDP candidate for George Town, said there were potential opportunities for job creation to assist the parks department and National Trust in dealing with upkeep and conservation management of national parks, including the Mastic Trail.
He said the party was also planning to implement hurricane preparedness plan, working with social services to identify people who need assistance in getting their homes ready for hurricane season.
He added: “We are also looking at a massive island-wide cleanup campaign. We’ve looked at some of the inner-city areas around George Town and there are a lot of derelict vehicles and refuse that has been dumped over the years that need to be cleaned up.”
He believes recycling programmes, partnering with the private sector, could also help create jobs in the short-term.
The longer term plan, said Mr. Whittaker, was to focus on training Caymanians to take their share of the construction jobs that will open up when major projects like the Shetty Hospital, the Dart hotel and potentially the cruise berthing dock, get under way.
He said vocational training, particularly in construction and masonry, would be part of the programme. He insisted Cayman didn’t need a new trade school and that courses could be delivered through the existing infrastructure.
And he said the UDP would partner with the Heart Trust in Jamaica and local tradesmen to deliver vocational training programmes, using the current Advanced Automotive mechanic training scheme as the template.
Osbourne Bodden, a PPM candidate in Bodden Town, said training was key to getting Caymanians back to work.
“We need to make sure we train our people and we retool our people to take their rightful place, this is the reason where we now have a situation with so many permits in this country – 21,000 permits, 3,000 people unemployed, something doesn’t add up.”
He believes a manpower unit should be set-up to deal with unemployment and work permits, rather than handling it through the Immigration Department.
“We need to create an authority that will look carefully at the manpower needs in this country. We need to tie it in with our education system and decide where we are going as a country.
“Where we want to put the emphasis, if we are going towards medical tourism we need to have people trained in that area.
“We need more blue-collar workers such as plumbers, carpenters and masons. All those jobs are filled by permit holders, the days of the Caymanian carpenter are long gone and we need to bring that back. Electricians and plumbers make a good living.” Bo Miller, an independent candidate for George Town, is proposing a $5 million fund to retrain unemployed people.
“We have 22,000 work permits in this country. We don’t have a shortage of jobs. Most countries wish they had our problems.
“What we have is a failure of common sense policies. And we need to invest in our people now. I’m proposing a $5 million fund for retraining, immediately.
“Now, it will be straight over this Island, monitored and managed by the district councils. And the schools and the halls in the various districts will be used to carry out the training. “We will pay these people… a liveable wage, of a few dollars an hour to get them up to speed. As these people increase their skills they can be transferred into the workforce.”
Another tool to get Caymanians into work could be the new Immigration Amendment act, giving Cabinet the power to restrict work permits in certain job categories.
Employment Minister Rolston Anglin, a candidate for the new People’s National Alliance party in West Bay, backed the bill when it came to the Legislative Assembly in March.
Mr. Anglin, who was involved with the drafting of the bill, said it would allow Cabinet to set policy on immigration rather than leaving it to immigration officers to handle on a case-by-case basis.
“This bill will enable Cabinet to make critical decisions around how it is that we are going to determine what trades, jobs, areas of employment ought to have a quota put in place.”