Opposition: Summer work program a ‘band-aid solution’

Applicants line up outside the Lions Centre on Monday to sign up for this summer’s National Community Enhancement program. - Photo: Jewel Levy

Government’s summer work program for jobless Caymanians has divided opinions, politically.

Advocates of the program, like Commerce Minister Joey Hew, say it provides soft skills, work experience and a cash boost to those struggling to find work.

But opposition politicians have labeled the National Community Enhancement program a “band-aid solution” that fails to properly address the islands’ unemployment issues.

The work program, usually held around Christmas, was extended this year to include a summer installment. Around 500 people showed up at the Lions Centre Monday to sign up for the community cleanup, known as NiCE, which pays $10 an hour.

Deputy Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo said the large turnout was a worrying sign.

“The number of people turning up for the now twice-yearly NICE jobs program does not seem to be declining,” he said in a press release.

“Such band-aid solutions, while appreciated by the people at the time, do very little to help with long-term employment. What I want to see is a needs-driven approach to providing technical and vocational training at the levels required to equip Caymanians to gain employment and to remain employable.”

Preempting some of those concerns in an interview with the Cayman Compass Monday, Minister Hew said the project did provide valuable experience and job training for many. He said department heads used it as an opportunity to vet potential new workers for full-time employment opportunities.

He added that the program also served as a timely, if temporary, boost for people who struggled to hold down long-term employment for a variety of social reasons.

“It is about preparing people who have not been in the workforce for a while or who need some retooling,” he said.

“We run the program like a real job and there have been persons that have received further short-term and even long-term employment through the government with this program.”

Independent George Town legislator Kenneth Bryan said the program was a welcome boost for many of his constituents.

But, he said, the fact that so many people needed to sign up for a week’s work program amid an economic boom showed there was a bigger problem that needed to be addressed.

He urged government to take a tougher stance with private companies, particularly developers, and hold them to account to hire Caymanians. He said more could be done to assist Caymanians in getting trade skills through small scholarships for short-term vocational training courses.

Mr. Suckoo also made the case for more investment in vocational training.

He said government should determine the areas of highest demand for work permits requiring skilled labor and offer technical scholarships for Caymanians who could be prepared to take those jobs.

He has also proposed that 10 percent of the money paid for every work permit be set aside for educating and training Caymanians.

“Much more effort is needed to identify and assist those who need the training and skills to equip them to take advantage of available jobs on a permanent basis,” he said in his statement.

“We need to give Caymanians a fighting chance. We cannot continue to pump money into the Needs Assessment Unit while increasing the frequency of these temporary job programmes.”

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