by Earl Bousquet

Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony says the National Skills Development Centre (NSDC) represents “a fine example of a basis for strong cooperation between the Government and the Private Sector towards development of a skilled workforce” for the nation.

            Dr Anthony expressed those sentiments Thursday (February 25) during his first official visit to the NSDC’s facility at Bisee Industrial Site.

Accompanied by Chairman of the NSDC’s Board of Directors Ernest Hilaire, the Prime Minister was led on a room-by-room tour of the facility, where various training classes were in progress.

Established as an initiative out of the Short Term Employment Prorgramme (STEP) to provide a more long-term answer to the country’s need for employable skills training, the NDSC opened its doors just about one year ago at a former factory shell. Since then, it’s been transformed into a busy learning center where the unemployed and unskilled seek and get training and where the skilled and employed also get to improve and advance their own professional development.

The NSDC’s services include orientation sessions on labour market trends, career counseling, job matching and apprenticeship. There’s also a learning resource and a youth venture programme, in addition to trades assessments and training in child-care, hospitality trades, business services and various types of computer classes.

Other subjects include how to prepare for a job and getting the skills needed in various sectors now and for the future and information on employers and related industries.

Those interested in self-employment are trained in entrepreneurship and small business. Access is provided to appropriate local and international education and training institutions for accreditation. Such clients also learn where and how to access financial assistance and how to access and make use of community resources.

The facility also boasts a magazine and newspaper section with relevant information on companies, industries and job trends for the job seeker, as well as a learning resource section with Internet Café computers that also offers non-Internet computer services. Office equipment such as fax and photocopying machines are also available in the learning resource section.

In addition, the Bisee center offers job maintenance and information technology workshops for the unemployed, including computer literacy and desktop publishing for small businesses.

“Someone walking into the center seeking a skill and searching for job options will not only receive computer-aided learning for development of their skills. The emphasis is not only on skills training, but also on such areas as discipline, how to aim high and how to keep a job,” said Mr Hilaire.

“The applicants come and we teach them to prepare a resume, get ready for the job interview and how to market themselves and their skills. The facility is free and they also learn about the disciplines and training possibilities,” he explains.

Several training sessions were in progress while the Prime Minister visited. These included introduction to computers, hospitality industry (hotel trades), sewing and fashion designs, professional office procedures, cake decoration and flower arrangement.

He also saw a Child Care Room where the infant children of job-seeking parents can be taken care of in a learning and playing environment while they attend classes.

Clearly impressed with what he saw and from his own one-on-one conversations with job-seekers, trainers and others making use of the center, the Prime Minister said it represented the best opportunity for a national job placement programme to be undertaken between the NSDC and the local private and public sectors.

Commenting on the need for development of a skilled job market, the Prime Minister said such a center was long in coming and probably way behind time.

Said Dr Anthony: “It is unfortunate that in 2001, we are just putting these facilities in place. It is a consequence of the neglect of the past and we are now trying to catch up under very difficult and trying circumstances.

He explained: “The STEP programme filled a particular gap in terms of providing some employment and skills training. There are success stories there as quite a few persons ended up with permanent jobs in the private and public sectors after being placed by STEP.

“But our training needs are deeper and more long-term and needed to be addressed by an institution that would prepare us to face the challenges of the emerging trends in employment. Thus the need for the NSDC, which we shaped out of the old Youth Skills Training Programme.”

It didn’t escape the Prime Minister and the press that women overwhelmingly outnumbered men at each of the training sessions that were on during the visit.

He said: “I’m not surprised, because it is a fact that more women are interested in skills training, just as more women seek employment on a daily basis. There are also more women in the STEP and the Beautification Programmes of the National Conservation Authority.”

A former Education Minister, Dr Anthony observed: “It’s in keeping with the trend at our schools here and across the Caribbean, where women and girls are doing much better these days than men and boys. It’s also in keeping with the trend in attendance at our tertiary institutions, such as the University of the West Indies (UWI), where 60% of the students are women.”

“It would seem that while our women have liberated themselves, our men have taken one step backward and imprisoned themselves,” the Prime Minister mused

Noting that “St. Lucians have an amazing passion for self-development,” the Prime Minister said it was manifest in the fact that “our tertiary institutions are bursting at their seams.”

He said: “It’s one of my dreams to see the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College transformed into a university complex, but while we have to improve on our tertiary education opportunities, we also need to develop skills training too at the base.”

Pointing to the future, Dr Anthony said the NSDC’s satellite facilities outside Castries – located at Choiseul, Soufriere, Marc, Anse la Raye and Canaries, Patience, Mon Repos and Black Bay -- will be upgraded constantly to meet the country’s skills training demands.

“We cannot reasonably expect unemployed and unskilled people from the rural areas seeking jobs and training to get money to pay the cost of transport to come to the center and return home every day,” the Prime Minister said.

Mr Hilaire indicated that a database of all persons trained at the facility so far will soon be developed, to be matched with a database on jobs and skills training needs of private sector businesses and other local entities, which will be requested from the St. Lucia Employers Federation The complied databases will also be published on a NSDC website to be launched soon.

The Chairman of the Board of Directors underscored that the facility is not only for young people. “It’s for young and old, men and women, the unskilled and unemployed, as well as for the employed,” he said, adding, “We will also soon begin night time classes for employed persons who need to upgrade their skills or prepare for switching jobs.”

Mr Hilaire disclosed that a batch of 160 persons will be graduating in two months out of courses currently taking place, to be replaced by a new batch of almost 200 persons either learning new skills or upgrading old ones.

Dr Anthony, at the end of his visit, told reporters: “I’m quite pleased with what I’ve seen here.

“I have no doubt in my mind that the NSDC is living up to its mission statement of working together with the private and public sectors to assist in providing information and training services towards developing a skilled, informed and marketable workforce which will contribute to the development of our country.

“What I have seen also truly reflects the theme of its motto, which allows those seeking its services to explore their potential.”

He said the NSDC’s services will be further expanded “to continue to provide services and programmes that complement those offered by the private sector and thus dramatically impact in a positive way on skills development in St. Lucia.”

October 26, 2001