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HEART pumped up as fee removal sparks increased interest

Since Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the removal of tuition and administrative fee requirements for courses up to associate level at the HEART/NSTA Trust, interest in programmes at the skills training agency has increased significantly. This is according to its Managing Director Dr Taniesha Ingleton.

“Our targeted enrolment for 2023-2024 pre-announcement was over 100,000. Since the announcement, we have received a plethora of calls from individuals. We have increased visits to our Facebook and Instagram pages. We have seen a boom in our Instagram followers by over 3,000 to 4,000 individuals. We have seen more visits as well to our LinkedIn pages and Twitter pages,” Ingleton told The Gleaner.

Holness announced the removal of fees for the courses in a range of areas up to Level IV during his contribution to the Budget Debate last week.

When the measure takes effect on April 1, Ingleton said that she expects an increase in uptake of between 30 and 50 per cent. She was also quick to give the assurance that her agency is ready to work to ensure the success of this new directive.

“We are a well-oiled machine; we are prepared. We are putting all the resources in place. We have already met as a team to examine the critical success factors to ensure that the prime minister’s mandate is fulfilled,” she said. “We are not challenged at the Trust at all. We are not bereft of talent. We have the resources, and all of the different gaps that we have to fill we have the systems and processes and the leadership in place to fill those gaps.”

Ingleton said that the beauty industry, construction sector, restaurant services, and the tourism industry have garnered the most interest.

And even though she explained that the entity did already offer free courses, some attracted “high costs” as all the programmes had administrative costs, ranging from $3,000 to $60,000.

Additionally, she said the Trust, through its various initiatives and interventions, has assisted persons from low socioeconomic backgrounds who wanted to be engaged.

“We have been charging tuition and administrative fees for quite a while. What Jamaica needs to understand is that on April 1st, there will be absolutely no fees, so there are no barriers. There is full access,” she declared.

As a result, Ingleton said that the entity would see a $58.7 million reduction in its institutional income. But she said the leadership was “ready to examine [the] budget and strategic plans” to see how it could realign and absorb this cost.

Speaking at the Open Day and STEAM Lab launch at the HEART College of Construction Services in Portmore, St Catherine, on Wednesday, Ingleton declared that the HEART/NSTA Trust is poised to accommodate changes in the global economy.

“The rapid development and expansion of technology have resulted in massive growth in the construction industry locally and globally, and that has led us to further upgrade and modernise the HEART College of Construction Services, and that is why we have decided to integrate STEAM into our training-delivery system,” she said.

Meanwhile, Incorporated Masterbuilders of Jamaica President Lenworth Kelly urged the youth to take advantage of every job prospect presented, noting that the construction industry, especially, employs more than 100,000 skilled labourers.

However, he said that there is a need for more skilled tradesmen in the global economy and emphasised that there is much value to be gained in acquiring expertise in these areas.

“If you say you want to be a carpenter, or a mason, or an electrician, there are some in society who look down on you. They think it’s because you can do better. For those who choose to take on construction skills, we encourage you,” he said.