A businessman who knows what it’s like having the employment door shut in his face is doing his part to give people trying to help themselves a second chance.
Shyam Ebanks, owner and manager of NCI Services Ltd., said “I believe in second chances. I too was once a young person and had my turning point in life. It’s up to them to make the best of it,” he said.
A young man by the name of Sidney Levy, working as a courier, is the newest addition to Mr. Ebanks’s company.
Mr. Ebanks was acquainted with Mr. Levy in younger days. He saw Mr. Levy last year when he was carrying out volunteer work at the Pirates Week office after being released from prison.
“When I met Shyam,” Mr. Levy said, “he was glad to see me, we shook hands, talked, ate some jerk chicken and right after that I registered with the National Workforce [Development] Agency.”
After reaching out to NWDA Employment Development Outreach Coordinator Jean Solomon about the potential for candidates seeking employment, Mr. Ebanks said Mr. Levy’s name came up on the list.
“I interviewed him, gave him the opportunity [for] part-time work, and right away I saw something in him that I wanted to take a chance with. Shortly after that I gave him a full-time post,” Mr. Ebanks said.
Mr. Levy’s father left Cayman to join the U.S. Army and met Sidney’s mother when he was stationed in Seoul, Korea, where their son was born. It was always his father’s intention to bring him back to Cayman when he retired.
Arriving in Cayman, Mr. Levy enrolled in college, did well in school and passed a few exams, but started to go astray and get into trouble before landing in prison.
He got work in Cayman Brac when he left prison but soon got in trouble again and ended up back in prison. This time, he decided to feed his mind with good things. He said he took a lot of National Workforce Development Agency classes – behavior modification, basic English, accounts … anything he could get his hands on in prison. When he was released, he had a different mindset and outlook on life, he said, and decided to volunteer his services to the Pirates Week office.
“The National Workforce [Development Agency] is willing to help, but you also have to help yourself too. They give you the website, [but] you have to definitely take the classes,” Mr. Levy said.
“They do the best they can with the resources they have. It’s just for the person to get out there and do what they have to .… [And] it’s not only them, there are other departments that are willing to help,” he said.
Mr. Levy said there are plenty of jobs available, but “you have to go put your foot in the door.”
“People who have not even been in jail are saying jobs are hard …. Go back to school, do some volunteer work, get your foot in the door and get with the right people, and opportunities will work out for you,” Mr. Levy said.
Ms. Solomon of the NWDA said she did not want people to doubt that there are opportunities and second chances out there. She has been involved with placements for more than a decade and all people need to get their lives back on track is a second chance, she said.
”We must always be remembering to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. If you made a mistake, how would you like to be treated?” she said.
Growing up in Windsor Park, business owner Mr. Ebanks said, was trying times. He got into all sorts of problems with his group of friends. There were times when he would go to Ms. Solomon at the Tower Building seeking whatever employment he could get during the summer holidays, but it was extremely hard because he did not have experience.
“It was hard. Many times the doors were closed, But I never gave up pushing. In addition to that, a lot of my friends that I grew up with ended up in some serious trouble, went to prison, came out of prison and life was hard for them,” he said.
Mr. Ebanks said he understood the mindset of some of his friends, who are unemployed and have a family to feed and who turn to crime to feed their children. “If you are unable to get that legally, you don’t have any other choice,” he said.
Mr. Ebanks was one of the fortunate ones to make it out.
“I tried to give them the same opportunities. Some worked out short term, some long term, and some did not work out at all …. It’s a small community and if you don’t help your neighbor, your community won’t get any better,” he said.
Seventeen of the 20 staff members in Mr. Ebanks’s company are locals. He started the company to make a few dollars extra for college, and it grew into a flourishing business. He thinks that companies can do more to assist locals with work, but the people have to want to work and make a difference in the community.
Ms. Solomon thanks all the employers over the years since 1997 who have really been instrumental in hiring people.
She could not put a number on the successful placements over the years.
“You can’t really quantify because they are placed and sometimes they drop out, end up back in prison or re-offend, but many have been given opportunities such as this one and have really become productive citizens in communities,” she said.