Who's to blame for Caymanian unemployment?

First, to the six Caymanians who found jobs through the latest tourism employment drive: Congratulations. We offer you our best wishes as you embark on what we hope will be a fruitful new career path.

To those interviewees who were in earnest, but disappointed: May you find fairer seas ahead.

But to the scores of “applicants-in-name-only” who didn’t respond to telephone calls or who made, then broke, appointments, we hold you up collectively as the latest exhibit of evidence refuting the popular narrative that expatriates are “stealing” jobs from Caymanians in the tourism industry.

A more compelling narrative is that far too many out-of-work Caymanians are not qualified for the jobs they say they want, and do not want the jobs for which they are actually qualified.

Notwithstanding the best efforts from members of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, local business leaders surely cannot be surprised by the poor return on their investment of time and resources. “Six for 102” (the number of successful job placements, compared to the number of initial participants in October’s employment drive) is merely the latest data point depicting the National Workforce Development Agency’s overall record of ineffectiveness.

Broach the subject of the NWDA with any Cayman employer, and chances are you’ll hear weary (or even angry) tales of being on the receiving end of error-filled resumes from individuals who are ill-suited for the positions advertised. Executives have little time in their schedules to participate in this ongoing charade.

Here’s the rub: The NWDA is largely limited to polishing clients for job interviews they set up. That does nothing to address underlying fundamental issues of education and attitude, which have worked to shape the individual long before the NWDA even existed.

Yet, Cayman governments continue to put pressure on local employers to “take one for the team,” so to speak, and sacrifice payroll spots for people who can’t or won’t deliver satisfactory performances.

CITA President Ken Hydes sums up the business community’s perspective: “The reality is the employers are reaching out. If the people don’t meet the criteria, I can’t expect them to hire them, especially if they are not doing their part and returning phone calls.”

On its face, it simply does not make financial or logical sense for an employer — when having to decide whether to hire an expatriate or an equally qualified Caymanian — to hire the expatriate.

The cost in time and dollars of hiring foreign workers borders on prohibitive: In most instances, overseas candidates must be identified, recruited, and relocated to Cayman. Work permit fees are exorbitantly high, even confiscatory. Though improved, the process of securing permits from the Immigration Department is one that no employer looks forward to.

And yet, we have approximately 20,000 work permits in place and an estimated 2,000 so-called unemployed Caymanians. What is the disconnect? Why would any sane employer prefer foreign workers to qualified, motivated Caymanians?

The short answer is they wouldn’t. It might make for good politics to proclaim that Caymanians are out of work because they are being “discriminated against” by foreign employers. But the problem with that argument is most employers aren’t foreign; they are Caymanian. (Recall that most businesses must have at least “60 percent” Caymanian ownership).

In other words: Caymanians aren’t hiring Caymanians.

Yes, there will always be stories of qualified Caymanians — some of whom have even graduated from universities abroad — who still cannot find employment in their home country. Certain politicians who find their way to talk radio regularly retell those anecdotes, and we have no doubt that some of those tales are true.

But they’re not the central issue. We do not believe that Caymanians (or foreigners here) are so prejudiced they would choose to go through the rigmarole described above to avoid hiring Caymanians.

Speaking “from home,” more than 70 percent of Pinnacle Media’s employees are Caymanian. Their performance equals or exceeds that of our expatriate staff. Our standards are high, we pay them well, and we truly value them and their contributions. Frankly, we’d like even more.

But, for the record, not one of them was ever sent our way by NWDA — or any other government agency.


  1. Good question, who to blame for Caymanian unemployment? From experience I would say Caymanians. They are their biggest enemies, and once I questioned my 106 year old grand mother about this. Her reply is that we Caymanians have no status like other Caribbean Countries; we are too mixed up with English Irish and African blood. Whereas other Caribbean countries are more of a true genetic.
    Well that settled that. To speak briefly and truthfully on what I have observed here is that when you are on a job and will get a good position, watch who will keep you out of it.
    There is obviously many reasons why expatriates are being hired over Caymanians and other Caribbean Countries. We ourselves have allowed that to happen because (1) We never look out for each other like they do, and yes we could work on our attitude much better instead of displaying anger at the reception desk. However, we must remember too that the foreigner will go to extreme lengths, and they do what ever they can to prove they are right for the job. If we then cannot be competitive, then be prepared to loose it. Some may not agree to hear these comments, but that is the way I see it.

  2. Well said!!!! For the first time someone is brave enough to put the truth out there. I would also like to add that Cayman do NOT have an unemployment. The definition for unemployment is someone that is willing and able to WORK, we do have people that is able to work but not willing, therefore they are not unemployed.

  3. Twyla, I will give you the benefit of the doubt that there probably are some employers who are adverse to hiring Caymanians, because of prejudice and attitude. None the less, on a dollars and sense approach it almost always makes more sense to hire a Caymanian worker over a foreigner, simply because of the additional costs associated with immigration and work permits. So if they are choosing to hire expats over Caymanian workers (with the exception of a few individuals who are biased), they must have some financial gain they believe they are receiving from making that choice. Secondly, you mention that the foreigner will go to Extreme Lengths to try and get a job over the local. Ok, so what is the problem with that? Why shouldn’t the employer be willing to take the candidate who is qualified, eager to work and is willing to do it for a competitive rate of pay? Again, this goes back to my prior statement that employers are most likely hiring an applicant when it provides them with a qualified applicant and financial benefit. Simply hiring an applicant because they feel they should, take care of their own goes against the basis principals of economics. For the most part, Business is business regardless of where in the world it is located, and the folks of Cayman need to wake up and realize this. The entitlement mentality is no longer a realization in today’s global economy.

  4. I disagree with Ms. Vargas and her Grandmother. Genetics have nothing to do with productivity and patriotism…but socialization does.

    Instead of wasting Corporate Cayman’s time chasing people who want work, but don’t NEED work, NWDA would be better off conducting studies into the cultural issues plaguing unemployed Caymanians, or Caymanians in general.

    Please start at the preparatory level. Look into cases of Truancy, Grades, Punctuality, Team-work performance etc. This will give some insight into the quality of workers to expect within the local labour pool in 15-20 years. From there, start changing the future…the past is lost.

  5. Forest Anda it is your democratic right to disagree, but unless you were born in 1888 you do not know a thing about what my grandmother saw in those days. She knew exactly what it was about when decent folks were taken for slaves and worked to death to receive just a slice of bread and a bottle of sugar cane juice. You really do not want me to tell those stories on this media because the separation would grow overnight.
    Furthermore if you never had me a Caymanian Woman and one who is not afraid to defend, and to respond to you, then you would be wondering where have all the Caymanians gone. Give thanks, that you have me, because every other comment response agree or disagree is a foreigner. I guess NO ONE HAS EVER NOTICED THAT. However, Like my comments or hate them, everyone has that right, but that is as far as they can go.

  6. Anda do you think this problem is just beginning now? No, it began a very long time ago, and unless you were born in 1888 and have the records, you would not know, and I am sure you do not want to hear what took place back then.
    In those days Caymanians worked for the elite offspring of foreign people; How do you think we got the name Eden, Bodden, Andrew, Solomon, Ebanks and so on, they were all the names of our English and Irish Bosses or Masters, what ever you may want to call them. That generation were paid a slice of bread with Lard and a few civil oranges to make lemonade. Hand-me-down clothes and left overs for a days work.
    Yes Genetics has much to do with it, because the generation was exploited, underpaid, overworked, and resulted in Technicolor children with wavy hair and green eyes. Have you seen what the original so called Caymanian looked like?. They were Technicolor’s wavy hair and green eyed. Does not matter who want to accept this, but that is the way it was. However because of this interbreeding we are less aggressive.

  7. I used to have a simple rule when someone asked me for a reference;-
    State the dates the individual worked and find the best three things you can say about them – ignore everything else. OK, some may say a lie of omission is a lie nonetheless, but it did sometimes allow me to skate around some minor issues to avoid prejudicing somebody’s future with a new employer.

    Nowadays, there are a number of standard ‘reference’ request forms and those don’t really allow much leeway or ‘beneficial amnesia’

    ‘Please state the number of sick days this individual took in their last year of employment (If less than 1 year state days and number of months worked)’

    Similar questions address timekeeping, honesty / trustworthiness issues, interaction and respect for other staff and customers, and so on.

    Cayman is even worse than those forms,
    In other countries, competing companies are a significant distance away and the odds you’ll actually know somebody working there is slim. On Cayman, the opposite is almost guaranteed.

    An individual applying for work should understand that here someone is able to phone a friend up and get an honest evaluation without any punches pulled, bad behaviour and poor attitude which gets somebody fired, is likely to ripple through an entire industry sector and that individual will then find it very challenging to be offered another similar role on Cayman.

    By carelessly burning a bridge with the current employer, one might scorch the bridges to future ones, and building new bridges is very hard work.

    One of the Nordic countries had a scheme where an employer could get an ‘intern’ for 6 weeks – paid wholly by the Government. and no obligation to employ at the end – for the employer the downside was minimal, but some of the long term unemployed found it to be the second chance they needed…

  8. Forest,

    I agree with what you say, but if somebody from Government reads you comment they are very likely to setup committee and hire consultants to get better understanding of you point. Then repeat. And go the usual route.

  9. Andy I agree with your comments, as I observe you are one of those persons who would rather have something good to say about another or not say anything at all.
    I am sure that has genetically came from your father good up bringing.
    Some persons may not believe that genetics has anything to do with how we say and do things, but I think it does. If Caymanians were not passive people, which could only have came from genes; then we would have been more aggressive in our approach towards Caymanian unemployment. Why is it we are not reading or hearing that countries like Jamaica, Cuba, or Eastern Caribbean is having this problem of the natives not getting jobs? No, we will not either; because people from these countries do not care one rat behind about earning respect, they demand it when it comes to earning bread to feed their families.

  10. Twyla:
    Your comments about race etc. are fascinating but avoid the central issue raised in the article.

    102 people apply for jobs in the tourism industry. 6 end up with jobs.
    The rest don’t mostly because they haven’t bothered to even answer the phone or return calls when prospective employers phone them.

    And i just can’t see how that relates to how their great grandfathers were treated.

    I’m no expert in the tourism industry but I think it is fair to say that most entry level jobs don’t need advanced degrees or Mensa level IQs.

    I have bemoaned before in these pages the lack of Caymanians in the tourism industry and how an average tourist can spend their entire vacation here without meeting a single Caymanian.

    Go to France and expect a French waiter, in Italy an Italian but in these islands your waiter may be Polish, Australian or Austrian, they almost certainly won’t be Caymanian.

    I’m 100% PRO jobs for Caymanians before foreigners. But there is an old saying about you can bring a horse to water but you can’t force him to drink.

  11. I really cannot wrap my head around this enigma of Caymanians not finding work.

    * Government is Caymanian (so too are their policies)
    * H.R. Managers are Caymanians
    * At minimum, 60% of business ownership is Caymanian
    * Immigration Dept. is Caymanian
    * All the key players are CAYMANIANS

    Yet, Caymanian jobs are being taken away…

    It is about time we look at this more objectively – some Caymanians do not want to work. Some are beyond help. Stop complaining and accept the facts.

    Start raising Caymanian children to embrace the philosophy in Genesis 3:19 – by the sweat of your brow, you will eat…

    See how many will shed a few pounds thereafter.

  12. This whole conversation just proves my point about the entitlement mentality and the I’m better than the rest just because I’m Caymanian has so negatively effected a lot of people.

    When people begin to think that it is their right to have a job they lose the ability and desire to compete for these jobs , because they don’t believe it should be a choice of whether they should be hired if they qualify or not, and believing that you deserve top dollar just because of you’re nationality will get you nowhere.

    You cannot put Caymanian under the skill set section on your resume. Businesses want and deserve to have the best employees working for them and they want to get what they pay for.

    As far as being a failure running in your genes, I don’t believe that for a minute. There are plenty of people who learned how to rise up and overcome obstacles placed in front of them by working hard, being determined and never giving up. If your father was a serial killer that does not mean you will be, if your mother was a loose women that doesn’t mean you will be and on the other side if your father was an NBA Star or the Heavy Weight Champion of the world, that does not be mean you will be. The color of your skin, your eyes or even your hair are things that run in your genes, they may make you tall but that doesn’t mean you can drop a ball all net from the half court line.

    Whether or not you turn out to be a failure in life is based on the choices you make in life as well as the guidance your parents give you. And if they told you that you will get a good job just because you are Caymanian they are setting you up for failure. This is the world we live in, all of us.

    Regarding how the original Caymanians looked, Correct me if I’m wrong but I thought the only natives that were here when Cayman was discovered were Turtles. From what I understand Caymanians are the offspring of immigrants from multi cultural backgrounds blending over the years. So the people that actually built this nation were immigrants.

    Am I wrong?

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