A government report on Caymanian unemployment found a lack of literacy and math skills, experience and knowledge were the primary reasons Caymanian applicants were not hired.
A lack of education and training, and perception by employers and job seekers, are making it hard for Caymanians to find good jobs, according to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Employment report.
As for why Caymanians were fired, three quarters of the 250 employers that responded said frequent tardiness or absences were the main reasons for terminations. Almost as many employers, 73 percent, said performance issues led to firings. More than half of the employers cited “attitude towards coworkers” as a reason for termination, followed by “attitude towards customers,” with about 44 percent.
A survey of job seekers who approached Cayman’s National Workforce Development Agency found that more than a third of respondents had a high school diploma or less education. The survey indicated that Caymanians looking for work were not as concerned about lack of skills, demonstrating “a major disconnect between their self-assessment and the assessment of employers who see the lack of skills as a major weakness,” the report states.
In 2014, about 70 percent of the more than 1,500 unemployed Caymanians had a high school education or less. “This appears to indicate a correlation between education levels and unemployment,” according to the report.
Of the National Work Development Agency’s 139 full-service clients in 2014, the survey report indicated that almost 98 percent lacked basic work readiness. About a fifth did not have basic literacy skills, the report stated. Roughly 20 percent had substance abuse issues, and 18 percent had serious alcohol abuse problems.
The committee identified five challenges to addressing Caymanian unemployment: the need for more spending on training and development; better collaboration among government agencies; engaging across the public and private sectors; better information on the employment market; and addressing barriers like housing and Internet access.
The committee has been studying barriers to Caymanian employment since July 2014, and delivered the report last week.
The Economics and Statistics Office recently reported that the Caymanian unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, down from 7.9 percent in 2014. According to the most recent Labour Force Survey, there are about 1,200 unemployed Caymanians and about another 750 who are underemployed.
Employment Minister Tara Rivers, in a press release published with the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Employment report, said, “This report was a critical first step in helping the Government prepare a larger plan to address unemployment, in the short and long term, because it provides Cabinet with useful information to help guide employment policy for the Cayman Islands.”
In the written statement, Employment Ministry Deputy Chief Officer Tasha Ebanks Garcia said, “Direct barriers are those related to employment, either through job history, experience or skills capacity or the means by which job seekers apply for employment (e.g. cover letters, resumes and references).
“Indirect barriers, in contrast, are non-work-related concerns specific to an individual job seeker. They are usually environmental factors which prevent or inhibit ease of entry into the workforce (e.g., transportation, Internet access, poor housing) as well as social, family or health issues.”
The report pointed out that skills identified by employers as lacking included “basic skill deficiencies in literacy and numeracy; technical skill deficiencies in either industry-certifications or knowledge of industry practices or techniques.”
“Obviously, focusing on education and enhancing the educational experience of our students is an integral part of the long-term employment strategy,” Minister Rivers said, adding that her ministry is addressing overall literacy and numeracy, placing greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and developing technical and vocational education and training pathways for students.
There is also a concern among employers that unemployed Caymanians lack “soft skills” needed in the workplace, “such as customer service skills/orientation, ‘attitude’ problems expressed as an entitlement mentality or perceived lack of work ethic; or some combination thereof,” according to the report.
The perception among some employers, the report notes, is that “the motivation to learn and develop has been generally lacking or, if present, has not been at the level required to meet the existing demand for skills.”
Conversely, a survey of job seekers showed that unemployed people did not recognize if they lacked important skills. The report states, “This demonstrates a major disconnect between the job seekers’ assessment and that of the employers who see lack of skills as their primary concern.”
The committee writes that job seekers’ perception “may be that experience is dependent on gaining employment, so their lack of experience is because they have not been given the opportunity to gain it.”
The problems for some go beyond skills, as the report states that analysis of data collected suggests a lack of competitiveness among a small segment of the Caymanian workforce that is “beset with challenges” that hamper long-term employment prospects and which “require government attention and investment in terms of training and development,” the report states. Those challenges include transportation, Internet access, poor housing, and a lack of social, family or medical support.