Friday’s front page featured photos and a story on the 12th anniversary of the landfall of Category 5 Hurricane Ivan. That was the second-most devastating item to appear in that issue of the newspaper.
The first, as most of our readers probably noticed, was a letter to the editor from a local employer, Michael Allen, who has been pursuing a company priority to hire as many Caymanians as possible to staff his new business, called Buy $mart.
Ivan caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage to property in the Cayman Islands. The havoc wreaked by Mr. Allen’s letter, on the other hand, is on the veracity of a narrative that over the decades has been promulgated by government officials, radio hosts, talk show callers-in, online commentators and elected politicians, namely that the reason for Caymanian unemployment is bias on the part of employers against Caymanian people.
We do not doubt there are instances of unfair and discriminatory employment practices by some employers, but we suspect those are relatively few. (How else could one reconcile the fact that 94 percent of Caymanians are gainfully employed?)
Mr. Allen’s letter describes a litany of disappointments and frustrations with candidates and interviewees, including “a lot of attitude and a complete disregard of business professionalism, a lack of interview preparation and poor resume preparation” – when the candidate actually bothers to show up for the interview.
Read this sentence from the letter: “Only ‘one’ person has been professional enough to call to cancel, and the reason provided was that it was raining and they didn’t wish to get wet.”
Or this passage: “Then there is the individual that arrived with a child who was left in a running vehicle. This person proved less than attentive as they proceeded to use their phone through the interview process. When the interviewer ended the interview due to the fact he did not have this person’s attention, he was then told to ‘F off’ before the person left.”
For many local employers, Mr. Allen’s anecdotes are all too familiar. What makes Mr. Allen’s letter unusual isn’t what he describes – it’s that the letter exists at all, in signed, “for publication” form.
In submitting his letter to the Compass, Mr. Allen has violated an unwritten but well-understood rule of doing business in the Cayman Islands: Don’t talk about the quality of the pool of unemployed Caymanians.
Whether local employers have been muzzled by fear of retribution or an overly delicate sense of decorum, their silence has had serious practical consequences. The narrative that employers are biased against Caymanians has provided nourishment for the careers of populist politicians, the crafting of punitive immigration policies and the government’s armada of unemployment and remedial education initiatives.
(Remember that nearly all local companies are Caymanian-owned because of the requirement that businesses without special Local Companies (Control) Licenses must have at least 60 percent Caymanian ownership.)
Two questions for Employment Minister Tara Rivers: 1) Will you contact Mr. Allen to discuss his letter and issues? and 2) might you convene a forum of Cayman’s largest employers to “listen and learn” about their experiences in trying to fill their ranks with Caymanian workers?
By definition, Mr. Allen’s letter must be either:
a) Not true;
b) True, but not representative of the average employer; or,
c) True, and also an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to be an employer in Cayman.
It has to be one of those three things. What Mr. Allen’s letter cannot be, however, is ignored.
The following is a letter from Michael Allen from Buy $mart. – Ed.
I am writing as a follow up to my “Letter to the Editor” of Sept. 9, 2016 along with the editorial in yesterday’s newspaper. I believe this follow up is critical because something great happened as a result of this letter being published.
Our interview process continued and extended past the deadline, due to the fact that we received emails from young Caymanians saying they had read the letter and were inspired to apply. Their resumes were attached to well-worded emails or cover letters. We had people drop by the store and let us know they agreed with our comments and asked if they could submit their resume.
Prior to the letter being published, we had exactly 26.7 percent of people who set up interviews not show up. Since the letter was published, only one person has failed to show. A very special mention must be made of the young man who showed up for an “entry level” job interview. This young Caymanian was on time, introduced himself and immediately stated that he had read the letter, and standing there in his three-piece suit, told us he wanted us to know that not all Caymanians were as we had experienced with some. Yes, he was overdressed, but he did so to stand out, and that he did. Needless to say, the interview went well and this well spoken and well prepared young man will have a job with Buy $mart.
As I said in my original letter and will repeat. It is not my intent, nor do I believe, we should ever “paint everyone with the same brush” and the interviewees since Friday have proved this as well as some before. To those comments on a Facebook post I read suggesting this is a ploy to get work permits approved, nothing could be further from the truth. For the record, of the 100-plus interviews we have set up and 80-plus completed, about 10 percent were with individuals holding Right to Work and the balance were Caymanians and I DO NOT plan on changing our company goal. We have received a high number of resumes from individuals on permit or requiring one and those applicants have not received an interview. This is not to say that at store level we will never have individuals on a permit, but I do firmly believe that we can find Caymanians that have experience or can be trained and will bring a positive and professional attitude to our new business.
As a business, we will not lower our expectations and we will provide the coaching required to our new team members in order to provide the best customer experience with the best local employees. When our customers come into Buy $mart we hope they will see a difference and the staff and I will be proud in knowing that the reason and only reason we are all there is because we earned the right to be there.
If our experiences are representative of the average employer I cannot say. Have I violated an unwritten but well-understood rule about doing business in the Cayman Islands, and should I fear retribution? I do hope not because as employers, we all have an obligation to speak up and “be involved” in changing the situation for the better. This can’t happen without talking about the problem. Let’s move together to prepare our available and future workforce because it is clear addressing the concerns makes a difference. In particular, let’s ensure young Caymanians are prepared for an international job market because that is exactly what we now have in Cayman.