New Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce President Kyle Broadhurst said education will be the “vital focus” of his year-long term at the helm of the islands’ largest business representative organization.
Mr. Broadhurst, an attorney, succeeds developer Paul Pearson.
Businessman Chris Kirkconnell was named vice president at the group’s annual general meeting at the Chamber’s office in Governors Square Wednesday.
Newly elected Chamber council members Mike Gibbs, Denise Gower and Steve McIntosh joined the organization’s governing body following a secret ballot election of members present Wednesday afternoon.
During his address at the meeting, Mr. Broadhurst opined that “any sensible business owner” in the Cayman Islands would wish to hire Caymanian employees, given the expense and difficulties associated with hiring overseas staff through the work permit process.
“It is imperative that we do as much as we can to ensure that every willing Caymanian is given every opportunity to succeed here at home,” he said.
However, Mr. Broadhurst noted, that process starts with comprehensive education, including post-graduate vocational and professional training, to provide a competitive local workforce.
“In a country with such a high gross domestic product per capita and relatively small population, I honestly believe that we should be able to become a global leader in the quality of our education.
“We are not there yet.”
The Chamber president said the organization routinely receives reports that school leavers do not have the skills or “the drive” for certain jobs. These failures of the current education system impact everyone in Cayman, Mr. Broadhurst said.
“In the absence of a strong education system, we will see greater dependence upon the social network which cost us all,” he said. “Worse still, we may potentially see higher crime rates.”
The drive to improve education also must come from the community as a whole, he said, not from governments, which change ministers, and priorities, every four years.
“It is simply not possible to see any real change if whatever course we plot is altered before it bears fruit,” Mr. Broadhurst said.
The Chamber plans to host three focus groups on education and education standards with its members and an external session with Ministry of Education officials to discuss future plans. Mr. Broadhurst said Chamber council members will also tour local schools to obtain firsthand information about the education system.
All candidates who participate in Chamber debate forums will be asked questions about education issues, he said.
Whatever the political rhetoric ahead of the general election in May, Mr. Broadhurst said, the Chamber council hopes that “loud opinions regardless of accuracy” would not drown out more fact-based positions.
He said an example of this occurring in Cayman was in the debate over local unemployment.
“Frequently, we hear statements concerning work permits and the negative impact upon Caymanian employment,” he said. “It is, however, a fact that historically as the number of work permits go up, unemployment has gone down.”
The Caymanian unemployment rate has gone from an estimated 10.5 percent in 2012 to about 5.8 percent last year, according to government records.
During that time, the number of work permits held by non-Caymanians residing in the islands has gone from below 20,000 to above 23,000.