Politically speaking, Premier McLaughlin’s observation about his party’s potential vulnerability may have some truth to it. It cannot be denied that there are too many Caymanians who do not have jobs at all, or do not have the jobs they wish they could have. Come election time, voters who are unemployed – or otherwise financially disgruntled – have compelling reasons to cast ballots against the status quo, or an administration they feel may not have been “doing enough for them.”
We would offer a different perspective. Premier McLaughlin’s government has consistently backed the interests of Caymanians in and out of the workforce – as did the previous government led by former Premier McKeeva Bush – and the Progressives government before that, and the government before that, and so forth. Our politicians’ commitment to the cause has never been in question.
Rather, the problem with the Caymanian unemployment problem, currently at 8.3 percent, is that it is not the direct result of anti-Caymanian intransigence on the part of local businesses; it is a symptom of an underlying condition among large segments of our society, characterized primarily by a lack of preparation to compete in the private sector.
Our description of unemployment as a “symptom” of a greater problem is not intended to belittle what is a very real issue with serious consequences to individuals, families and the country. Think of it this way: You fall and break your leg. Symptoms include excruciating pain and the inability to walk. While it is desirable to alleviate those symptoms by way of pain medication and crutches, that does not constitute an adequate course of treatment. Those measures, by themselves, will only lead to long-term dependence and disability. In order for the broken leg to heal correctly, it must be “set” properly, immobilized in a cast and rehabilitated through physical therapy.
Similarly, when Premier McLaughlin declares that local businesses must be “more willing to take on Caymanians who don’t meet precisely all of their employment requirements and train them” – that’s an attempt to treat the symptom, not the condition itself.
A more effective approach to solving the stubborn problem of Caymanian unemployment has multiple prongs. The main two are “education” and “business climate.” Unlike the specific human resources decisions of particular employers, those fall well within the responsibility and remit of government.
The trouble with education reform, again speaking politically, is that its positive or negative consequences on the economy, as a rule, can’t be seen for many years, and sometimes aren’t fully realized for a generation. That is of little practical use for parties seeking to gain or retain power in a series of four-year election cycles. That, of course, does not mean it shouldn’t be done, and it lends a particular nobility to officials who steadfastly pursue and see through wholesale improvements to public education during their careers. It is the sterling stuff of which legacies are made.
That being said, even the most dramatic and effective education reform, while ensuring brighter futures for the young people who comprise our future workforce, is not particularly germane to the adults who make up our current workforce. The surest path to greater employment opportunities, in the short and long term, for those unemployed or underemployed individuals is to promote greater economic opportunities for all companies and individuals in Cayman. That means lowering the cost of doing business (taxes, fees and duties) and reducing the burden of doing business (regulations, red tape and bureaucratic hurdles) as much as possible.
If businesses in Cayman are enabled to hire more people, they will hire more Caymanians. If the Caymanians seeking employment are better prepared for those jobs, then their efforts will increasingly be met with success.