WORC in progress: New streamlined systems expected in autumn

The job placement and immigration application systems under the new Workforce and Residency Cayman (WORC) department will be more secure, transparent and consistent, and completely paperless, when they become active later this year, according to Director Sharon Roulstone.

In addition, the turnaround time for work permit applications will speed up, with a benchmark time of two weeks.

“Of course, there are going to be teething problems on our end initially, but that is the benchmark that we have set and we believe can exceed as well,” Roulstone told delegates at the Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum on Wednesday.

“The short turnaround time will also greatly reduce the dependence on temporary work permits, which will create efficiencies and cost savings for our customers,” she said.

Workforce and Residency Cayman is not a merger of the National Workforce Development Agency and Immigration but rather a new department built from scratch, Roulstone explained.

For the time being, the department is in transition as it is lacking dedicated legislation that give WORC its operational powers. Proposed legislation will be published for public consultation and is set to be passed during the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly in September.

Once the legislation is in effect, “hopefully, this fall”, the WORC director said, the department is expected to have moved into new premises and its technology system should be operational.

“The task is to radically change the processes to help Caymanians find jobs and employers the labour that they need to keep Cayman globally competitive.”

WORC will be technology driven and powered by two systems that work in a single, seamless process for employers looking to find labour.

One system, consisting of the National Jobs Clearing House portal, is where Caymanians seeking work or those seeking better work will have to register.

“A key difference between the new system and the current system is that WORC will only register Caymanians who are job ready,” Roulstone said. As such it will act as a type of filter for those who need some other type of assistance before entering the job market, such as training or support from the Needs Assessment Unit.

“The current system does not adequately filter job-ready Caymanians from those requiring other assistance, which we know has been a frustration to employers as well as job-ready Caymanians looking for work.”

Caymanians can register and search the jobs portal directly for vacancies, or opt for a process that provides more guidance as well as job skills training before they begin the job market search.

For employers, the national jobs clearing house will be the portal through which all vacancies must be advertised. There will be no need to advertise in the newspapers, as under the current law, but traditional advertising can be done in addition to the portal, the WORC director said.

Only Caymanians registered to the portal will be able to see the job vacancies and only Caymanians registered on the site can be considered for employment.

“So, for example, if you are advertising for a food and beverage server and no Cayman food and beverage server is listed on the portal, we are not going to require that you go out and rummage through the bushes to find them,” Roulstone said.

Employers who advertise elsewhere in addition to the government portal can hire a Caymanian who responds to the ad directly, without the need to go through the government system.

The department will launch a public relations campaign in the near future to encourage job-ready Caymanians to register on the jobs portal.

This should help remove the stigma that has been attached to the National Workforce Development Agency “as the agency for the unemployables”, she noted. “None of that culture is transferring to WORC. This will be a brand-new opportunity for Caymanians.”

The second system will be used to submit all permissions applications, such as work permits, Cayman status and permanent residence.

“The way this will work in practice is that an employer will first search the jobs portal to determine whether there are any job-ready Caymanians available for the advertised post. If there are, the process then terminates and that is obviously the result that we want,” Roulstone explained. “However, we must be realistic. If there are no Caymanians registered on the portal that match the skills required, the employer continues on the process of applying for a work permit via the second phase of the system.”

The online application forms are expected to be improved and all supporting documentation required for an application must also be uploaded online. Payments will be made online by debit or credit card or via escrow account, so that the applications process is entirely paperless.

The system is designed not to accept any application that is incomplete. “Therefore, once the information is transmitted to us our team of administrators should be able to review and make a decision on an application within our benchmark time of two weeks.”

The new system will no longer require police clearance certificates, as it will run a background check on all applicants, regardless of where they are from, by interfacing with law enforcement databases in North America, Europe and other international agencies.

The system will also connect with other Cayman Islands government agencies so that documents, such as a trade and business license, a Cayman Islands-issued passport, marriage certificate or birth certificate, will not have to be submitted.

“Our rules will also not ask you for documents we do not need,” Roulstone said. “The classic example is the chest X-ray.”

Instead, this information for the medical questionnaire will be put before a doctor who will confirm whether or not the applicant is fit for work.

Each application will be peer-reviewed for internal compliance purposes. If two decisions are at odds, the application will be escalated to a manager for a decision.

In practice, applications can be made online around the clock every day of the week. For those who are less tech-savvy, WORC will provide kiosks at its new premises where customer care officers will assist with the application scanning and upload, Roulstone said. “But whatever documents you will bring in, you will also leave with.”

How much this paperless automation of processes is needed is reflected in the department’s current processing statistics.

In the last three months, the department processed 18,839 paper-based permission requests with four full-time administrators, six board staff, plus supporting staff for filing and processing clerks.

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