Nearly nine months have passed since the outbreak of one of the world’s most polarizing and deadly pandemics; bringing the tourism industry in the Turks and Caicos Islands and many other vacation destinations to a grinding halt.
Many private businesses and hotels were forced to close their doors due to the decline in sales and revenue. Having no other choice, hundreds of work permit holders who were laid off, had to relinquish their employment status and return to their homeland.
In essence, the flight of foreign workers could serve one of the government’s most urgent priorities, which is finding jobs for a large segment of the population who are either out of work or under employed.
With having so many recent high school and college graduates from 2019-2020 school years, this could have been a great opportunity for those wanting to tap into the job market.
Nevertheless, let’s face it, there aren’t enough TI nationals in the service industry to fill those jobs vacated by work permit holders, and in some case, neither do they have the expertise or experience in certain required areas.
Therefore, this will be a great opportunity for these graduates who have interest in this area to help fill those gaps.
In the tourism and private sector, the overwhelmingly majority of the service-related jobs are held by work permit holders.
In the short term, what has the government done or is doing in conjunction with the private sector to alleviate this disparity?
Also, have we done enough with government crackdown on people violating the work visas sponsorship program?
Considering the sluggish return of the tourism market, government should consider only issuing shorter term work permits; maybe 6 months instead of 12 months.
This shorter stay will allow foreign nationals to temporarily fill job vacancies until TI nationals are trained and exceptions should also be made in the event an extension visa is needed.
Finding positions to match skill sets such as bar tenders, restaurant workers, maintenance, customer service etc. are all areas that require some sort of crash training.
So, the question is, who will pay for such training? In my opinion, I believe it might be in the best interest of the employer and probably a more cost effective measure in the long term, compared to the cost of work permits. Nevertheless, the cash outlay during such challenging financial times could be a huge drawback.
As concerned citizens and residents alike, the questions we should be asking is, has the government exhausted all possible avenues to ensure our young people find gainful employment?
Although it should be a joint effort between both the private sector and the government, they will need to take a lead role in charting this course.
In my opinion, it would be wise for large companies to provide such pragmatic and helpful interim training program for interested applicants. It can potentially open the doors to some hidden local talent.
In order to mitigate the risk against companies associated with this, and for a smooth transition, an initiative such as this will also require advance planning.
If not properly executed, management of these private companies could find themselves in an awkward position, as companies cannot be scrambling for workers just short of peak season.
By law, we know it’s a requirement to advertise job openings previously held by work permit holders. However, with the only expectation that all vacancies be duly published via the newspapers, it’s insufficient.
Larger employers cannot rely solely on newspaper advertisements to determine the availability of TI nationals to fill positions.
Although newspaper advertising is good, other options need to be made available, such as having the ability to register your application in an “electronic online portal, in addition to conducting ongoing local job fairs.
This will also ascertain the availability of potential qualified TI nationals, Belongers or other lawful residents, including those who are off island and may want to consider returning home.
Applicants should also be given an opportunity to apply within a 30-day window, before a work permit holder is offered the job.
Challenges like these, also highlight the need for unemployment agencies, the labor board and employers to work in tandem for a broad base solution to these matters.
The long and short of this is, it’s imperative that we find an amicable solution between the public and private sector, with respect to generating gainful employment for our people.
Even if it means introducing a “pay to learn service worker program”, subsidized by the government. It will also be a great way to help businesses foster resilience and employability.
The longer a staggering number of Turks Islanders remain unemployed, more frustration will set in, which can lead to other social issues and political instability.