By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Efforts are underway to overhaul The Bahamas’ apprenticeship legislation by modernising it for the 21st century and ensuring school leavers graduate with employable skills that are properly certified.
Peter Goudie, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) labour division head, told Tribune Business that the National Tripartite Council is working on reforms to the Apprenticeship Act - passed some 40 years ago in 1983 - to not only boost job prospects for young Bahamians but also improve workforce productivity and overall economic growth.
A vice-chairman of the Council, the body that deals with all labour-related matters in The Bahamas, he said: “We’re amending the Apprenticeship Act right now. It’s very old; it’s not 2023. I can’t remember when it was put in but it’s old, very old. We’re putting all the operational stuff in it. We’re not there, but we’re moving forward and it will be nothing but good news.
“We’re trying to get people to come out of school not only with skills, but if we can give them skills and get them certified that will be the biggest thing. We can move forward and help a lot of young people that do not have jobs. We’re putting in the right framework to help people get good skills.
“It’s not going to be your 52-week job programme. It’s going to be a properly-certified training programme where you go to school and do work on the job. We haven’t finished it, but that’s the framework we’re looking at. It’s what we need to do.”
Apprenticeship initiatives are nothing new in The Bahamas. The Government previously partnered with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on a $50m ‘Skills for Current and Future Jobs in the Bahamas’ project, although the funds were ultimately used to provide employment support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This, though, in its original form, saw apprenticeship, with its emphasis on ‘on-the-job’ training, as key to young and unemployed Bahamians acquiring the skills and necessary experience that will endear them to employers, and enable them to find sustainable employment.
However, the IDB readily agreed that the Apprenticeship Act must be upgraded. It said then: “The Apprenticeship Act of the Bahamas, which is the legal framework to regulate apprenticeships nationally, came into effect on January 1, 1983. Any new programme needs to be underpinned by an amended version of the Apprenticeship Act.
“The Government has expressed that initial work for the Apprenticeship Programme can be started via an MOU, while an amended version of the Act is approved. This is a condition prior to first disbursement.”
The initiative was targeted at 1,350 persons, who were to be trained over a 12-month period, with some 80 per cent of the learning ‘on-the-job’. The three sectors targeted for the apprenticeship initiative were the maritime, medical and information technology/communications industries on the grounds that they would be exhibiting the fastest growth in the immediate future.
“These sectors were selected based on their expected expansion through new investments, and therefore high potential for growth, and considerations for implementation of the apprenticeship programme in the Family Islands,” the IDB said at the time.
“The maritime, and IT and telecommunication sector, currently, the ‘Transport, Storage and Communications’ industry within which these two sectors are included, account for approximately 10 per cent of employment in the Bahamas. This share, however, is expected to grow substantially over the new few years. In terms of the maritime and medical services sectors, important new investments are being made in Freeport in the island of Grand Bahama.”
The IDB added that tourism, construction and financial services were not included, even though they accounted for almost 50 per cent of Bahamian gross domestic product (GDP), “to contribute to the diversification of the Bahamian economy and to avoid duplication of existing efforts”.
And, in a negative sign for the Bahamas’ financial services industry, the IDB said: “The financial services industry was not included due to the fact that employment generation in this industry has seen a decrease over the last few years, presumably leading to decreased demand for apprenticeship places.”